Five new planets orbiting a sun very like Earth’s own have been detected just 12 light years away, an international team of astrophysicists reports.
One of those planets sits in the “habitable zone” just far enough away from the star Tau Ceti to support water and thus life similar to Earth’s.
Tau Ceti is a celestial neighbour in our Milky Way Galaxy, visible just by looking up at the night sky. Scientists have long studied it but never before found evidence that it had planets circling it.
Researchers from England, Finland, Chile, Australia and the United States took 6,000 observations from three different telescopes then constructed a new system of algorithms to figure out what the noise signals they picked up could mean.
“I am very confident that the signals are there,” lead author Mikko Tuomi of the University of Hertfordshire told the Toronto Star.
What scientists can’t say with absolute certainty that the signals are planets, even though they behave like planets in orbit and they can’t see what else they could be.
“We initially believed that there are no planets,” said Tuomi of the start of the study. They expected to use Tau Ceti as a target for their work with a new noise modelling system.
“As we performed tests we could always see signals and that encouraged us” to keep looking for planets previously too small to detect.