A team of scientists have discovered what they believe to be two large Earth-like planets orbiting a star just 12-light-years away.
The team, led by researchers at the University of Hertfordshire, discovered the ‘Super Earths’ orbiting the Tau Ceti solar system right within the habitable corridor known as the ‘goldilocks zone’.
Calling the discovery a “milestone”, Dr Fabo Feng, research fellow at the University of Hertfordshire and lead researcher on the study, said: “We’re getting tantalisingly close to observing the correct limits required for detecting Earth-like planets.”
The scientists were able to analyse the planets around star system by measuring the ‘wobble’ of the star itself as the planets orbit around it.
Sun-like stars like our own are, for obvious reasons, considered our best hope of finding habitable life throughout the rest of the galaxy.
The hope is that if the two outer planets are found to be rocky and habitable then they could become the first real contenders for colonisation outside of our own solar system.
Tau Ceti is one of our closest neighbours residing just 12 light years away, making it a tempting target for astronomers and scientists.
Of course with every piece of good news comes a word of caution. Little is know about the conditions within Tau Ceti and while both planets have potential there is still every chance that they’re inhospitable for external reasons such as constant bombardment from asteroids.
The discovery of these two ‘Super Earths’ is the result of years of work starting in 2013 when the team first set their gaze upon Tau Ceti.
“We realized that we could see how the star’s activity differed at different wavelengths and use that information to separate this activity from signals of planets,” said Dr Tuomi, lead researcher back in 2013.
“Since then we’ve painstakingly improved the sensitivity of our techniques and could rule out two of the signals our team identified in 2013 as planets. But no matter how we look at the star, there seems to be at least four rocky planets orbiting it.”