Sunday, February 10, 2013

ET has more than 4 billion potential homes in Earth's 'back yard'

Extra-terrestrial life may be just around the corner from Earth, in astronomical terms, on one of possibly habitable 4.5 billion planets in the Milky Way, according to a new research.

Stars called red dwarfs may support planets on which life is possible. Six percent of red dwarfs in the galaxy have Earth-sized planets, which could be habitable, astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have estimated.

Red dwarf are the most common stars in the Milky Way, which means that the closest earth like planet could be just 13 light years away, not far in space terms.

Red dwarfs are smaller, cooler and fainter than our Sun and are not visible from Earth to the naked eye.But despite their relative dimness, they make up three out of every four stars in our galaxy, a total of 75 billion.

“We thought we would have to search vast distances to find an earth-like planet. Now we realize another Earth is probably in our own backyard, waiting to be spotted,” said Courtney Dressing, an astronomer who presented the finding at a press conference Wednesday at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center in Massachusetts.

Dressing identified 95 planetary candidates orbiting red dwarf stars. According to the scientists’ estimates, 60 percent of red dwarfs could have planets orbiting them that could be smaller than Neptune.

Most were not quite the right temperature or size to be truly Earth-like, although three of the planets were warm and were approximately Earth-sized. Statistically therefore six percent of red dwarfs could have an Earth-like planet, scientists add.

“We don’t know for sure if life could exist on a planet orbiting a red dwarf, but the findings pique my curiosity and leave me wondering if the cosmic cradles of life are more diverse than we humans have imagined,” said Natalie Batalha, Kelper mission scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

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