Astronomer discovers first same-sized planet in a ‘Goldilocks zone’ that could host alien life
The hunt for alien life has been given a boost after scientists discovered a habitable planet almost the same size as Earth.
Astronomer Thomas Barclay from Nasa’s Ames Research Centre in California made the discovery using data collected by the Kepler space telescope.
The unnamed planet was found orbiting an unidentified star in its so-called Goldilocks zone – a region around the star that emits just enough energy, light and temperature for liquid surface water to appear.
Mr Barclay made the announcement during the Search for Life Beyond the Solar System conference in Arizona.
Using the Kepler images, Mr Barclay said he believes he has found a new star system consisting of five planets orbiting an M1 dwarf star.
[box type=”info” align=”alignright” ]WHAT ARE M TYPE DWARFS?
M dwarfs are stars that are much smaller and dimmer than Earth’s sun, and aren’t bright enough to be seen with the naked eye.
Also known as red dwarfs, these stars make up around 70 per cent of all the stars in the galaxy.
Scientists originally discounted the theory that planets around M dwarfs could be habitable because the stars give out such little light and heat, compared to our sun.
However, in 2005, astronomers began searching for habitable planets around these dim stars.
The planet recently discovered by Nasa’s Ames Research Centre is what’s called a goldilocks planet, orbiting around an M1 dwarf.
Goldilocks are planets that orbit inside a star’s habitable zone – a zone in which proximity to the host star is a certain distance that temperatures on the surface are suitable for water to appear. [/box]
By comparison, our sun is called a G dwarf, and these type of dwarfs account for only 5 per cent of stars in the universe.
The outermost planet in Barclay’s five-planet system is said to be 1.1 times the size of Earth and is called a goldilocks planet because it orbits within the M1 dwarf’s habitable zone.
Although other Earth-like planets have been discovered previously, Barclay’s unnamed goldilocks planet is believed to be the closest in size to our own.
Nasa’s Kepler mission launched in 2009 with the sole purpose of hunting for Earth-like planets.
It discovered a planetary system last April that featured Earth-size planets in an ‘habitable zone.’
Dubbed Kepler-62 system, it has five planets in total called 62b, 62c, 62d, 62e and 62f.
Kepler-62f is about 1.4 times the size of Earth, while Kepler-62e is estimated to be 1.6 times larger.