Wednesday, 19 December 2012

New Neighbours? Closest Single Star Like Our Sun May Have HabitablePlanet

As you stare into a star-studded sky, have you ever thought that one of those stars that you can see may host a planet which might be able to support life on it?  Well, Tau Ceti, one of our closest cosmic neighbours may now host five planets – one of which may well be in its habitable zone.

Artist’s impression of the Tau Ceti system  Picture credit: J. Pinfield for the RoPACS network at the University of Hertfordshire, 2012.
At a distance of twelve light years and visible with the naked eye in the evening sky, Tau Ceti is the nearest single star with same classification as our Sun. Originally thought to be a lone star, new research now suggests that Tau Ceti hosts a rich planetary system.

The international team of astronomers led by Mikko Tuomi and Hugh Jones, from the University’s Centre for Astrophysics Research, developed a new method to detect signals half the size previously thought possible – improving the sensitivity of searches for small planets.

The five planets around Tau Ceti are estimated to have minimum masses between two and six times that of the Earth. The planet of great interest is the one which may lie in the habitable zone of the star and has a mass around five times that of Earth.

Planets in orbit around the nearest Sun-like stars are particularly valuable.  With Tau Ceti being so bright and so close to Earth, we may be able to study the atmospheres of these planets in the not too distant future!

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