Source: University of Hertfordshire
A team of astronomers based out of the University of Hertfordshire has discovered compelling evidence that the Tau Ceti system, only 12 light years away from Earth, contains at least 5 planets, two of which are orbiting within the star’s “habitable zone.” The find, which was made using a new modelling technique which employs a computer program to subtract clutter from previous observations, is significant because Tau Ceti is a star very similar to our own Sol, lending credibility to the notion that any planets within its habitable zone may possess several of the key ingredients for life. Among the two potential candidate planets, one appears to be located squarely within the zone, and is roughly 4 times the size of Earth. The case for the second planet, which orbits at the outer perimeter of the habitable zone is somewhat weaker.
Given the proximity of Tau Ceti, which is visible with the naked eye, it is very possible that within a few years astronomers may be able to directly image the planet’s atmosphere, and even determine whether or not it contains oceans. Furthermore, pending independent confirmation of the new technique which revealed the existence of the five planet system, it can be applied to numerous other star systems as well, where it is likely to yield a flood of new discoveries.
While many are focused on the first manned mission to Mars as the next great adventure calling to the human race, the discovery and direct imaging of a warmer, wetter, sister planet to our own Earth orbiting a comparatively nearby star would be a major event in its own right, and would likely lend a new impetus to projects such as the 100 Year Starship Initiative, which seeks to develop the technologies necessary to enable human missions to other star systems over the coming century.