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Habitable planet found around nearby star

world Updated: Dec 20, 2012 01:50 IST
intra-galactic speed gun

Scientists using an intra-galactic speed gun have detected five new planets, relatively close to Earth, and one of them is orbiting a star’s habitable zone, where conditions are suitable for life.

It would take only 12 years to reach the planets when travelling at the speed of light. Scientists analysing about 6,000 measurements of the star Tau Ceti’s velocity, believe that slight inconsistencies in its speed and direction are being caused by the gravitational pull of other celestial bodies, The Australian reported.

“We believe the star is going very slightly backwards and forwards and shows the evidence for doing that at five different periods,” said Professor Chris Tinney of the University of New South Wales.

“We think five different planets are going around that star tugging on it making it move backwards and forwards,” Tinney said.

An international team of researchers from Australia, Chile, the United Kingdom and the United States believe one of the five planets orbiting Tau Ceti is within the star’s habitable zone, where conditions are suitable for life.

The planet in the habitable zone has a mass about five times that of Earth, making it the smallest known planet orbiting in the “Goldilocks” zone — where conditions are just right — of any Sun-like star.

Tinney said scientists believe smaller, rocky planets have the best chance of hosting life.

The finding comes after 14 years of research and analysis, and it might take that long again before scientists are certain of what lurks in Tau Ceti’s neighbourhood.

The planets, of which the smallest is at least twice the size of Earth, are too far away to send probes to explore. At the moment, we have no way of even getting close to a 10th of the speed of light.