New research out of Harvard University suggests that the nearest Earth-like planet could be a mere 13 light years away
Analysis of ‘red dwarf’ stars, which accounts for the majority of the stars in our galaxy shows that 6% of them hosts an eco-planet that may either already support some form of life, or may be able to support life via colonisation. Professor Charbonneau, co-author of the study said that the findings may have implications for life beyond our planet.
The Kepler space telescope has so far located most of the planets. It does this by pointing at a fixed region of space and recording the dimming of stars as the planets pass between it and the star. This ‘transit’ method of spotting planets has allowed NASA to list more that 800 of them in its catalogue. It estimates there are more than 17 billion such planets in our galaxy alone.
The vast majority of these will be either to close to, or too far away from the host star meaning they are either too hot or to cold to support the majority of life as we know it. Those in the centre band however, the area known as ‘The Goldilocks zone’ are the planets the scientists are most interested in.
The new research found 95 such planets but analysis of the results isolated three that were roughly the same size as Earth (90%-170% of the Earths radius) but all of them are between 300 and 600 light years away. Given the closeness of many red dwarfs to Earth statistics suggest that our first off world home could be as close as 13 light years away, an exo-planet of the nearest star, Proxima Centauri.
A light year is not a measure of time, its a measure of the distant light travels in a year. for the mathematically minded light travels at 186,000 miles per second and would therefore travel 5,865,696,000,000 miles in a single year. (186000 x 60 x 60 x 24 x 365) and multiply that by 13 to get how far away Proxima Centauri is.