Four Earth-sized planets found orbiting Sun-like star

Image for representational purpose only

Tau Ceti, a favourite destination of science fiction writers, is very similar to the sun both in size and brightness.

It's incredibly exciting to have two new habitable world candidates in a star system so comparatively nearby. Two of those worlds, tau Ceti e and f, were thought to possibly be at the right distance to harbour liquid water, although with mass estimates of 4.6 and 6.6 Earths, these potential worlds probably weren't rocky. Every star has a habitable zone around it, with its size and location dependent upon the star's size and radiance.

Of these six, at least three of the planets have an ocean - and scientists state that anywhere on Earth you find water, you are likely to find life, which is why astronomers look for these on other planets. One of the new planets might have a mass as low as 1.7 Earths.

Scientists have found tantalizing signs that there are four Earth-like planets orbiting Tau Ceti, a Sun-like star just 12 million light-years away. And, as before, the claim that tau Ceti e and f might reside in the habitable zone is already being contested.

According to lead author Fabo Feng of the University of Hertfordshire, UK, the researchers are getting tantalizingly close to the 10-centimeter-per-second limit required for detecting Earth analogs. Study co-author Guillem Anglada of Queen Mary University of London, meanwhile, urged some scepticism surrounding the existence of the planets, but he told Gizmodo the evidence "cannot be denied from a statistical sense".

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And the planets have a surface temperature ranging from zero to 100 degrees celsius - the temperature region which is flawless for supporting life. "This enabled us to verify the existence of the two outer, potentially habitable, planets in the system". More may be found and confirmed later, of course. The four planets claimed in the new paper would be among the smallest, and hence most "Earth-like", ever spotted around a star like the Sun.

An worldwide team of scientists devised a new, more accurate and sensitive method of detecting planets by looking for "wobbles" in the star's movement caused by the minute gravitational tug of orbiting planets, while also better ruling out false positives coming from activity on the star itself.

"The planets in the habitable zone around nearby dwarf stars, like Proxima Centauri or TRAPPIST-1, are exposed to strong stellar winds that could strip their atmospheres", Loeb said.

So what about the closest star that would actually remind us of our own beloved sun? The same team announced a few years back that they'd discovered five worlds orbiting the star, and the latest research serves as an amendment to their previous work. "Our detection of such weak wobbles is a milestone in the search for Earth analogs and the understanding of the Earth's habitability through comparison with these analogs", Feng said.

Sun-like stars hold out the best hope of finding planets beyond the solar system that host life.

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