The search for Earth-like exoplanets has yielded many promising results over the past couple of years, with astronomers finding numerous planets that lie in the "Goldilocks" or habitable zone from their suns in far-flung galaxies, making the possibility of human habitation very likely. Of course, many of these planets are beyond the reach of modern space faring technology and it would possibly take centuries to reach these planets by conventional means.
But a recent study suggests that maybe humans would not have to travel too far to get to a habitable planet, with US researchers saying the nearest Earth-like planet could be only 13 light-years away.
The researchers from Harvard University believe the search for exoplanets has gotten a lot closer.
Using the Kepler Space Telescope, which has so far been the leading light in exoplanets discovery, the researchers calculated that around 6 percent of all dwarf stars, which are the most common in our galaxy, could likely host Earth-like planets, putting the number of such planets within our own galaxy, the Milky Way, at around 4.5 billion.
Publishing their work in the Astrophysical Journal, the researchers said that three planets, with roughly the same temperature and size as Earth, had been discovered 300 to 600 light-years from Earth, but there was a probability that exoplanets could be much nearer.
Making up three-quarters of the stars in our galaxy, red dwarfs are the most likely candidates to host planets and the nearest, according to the research, could be 13 light-years away.
Speaking about the research, co-author David Charbonneau said, “We now know the rate of occurrence of habitable planets around the most common stars in our galaxy. That rate implies that it will be significantly easier to search for life beyond the solar system than we previously thought."
Lead author Courtney Dressing added, "We thought we would have to search vast distances to find an Earth-like planet. Now we realize another Earth is probably in our own backyard, waiting to be spotted."
Commenting on the study, Kepler’s principal investigator, William Borucki said, "I think what we need to do, now we know most stars have planets, [is find out]: do most stars have small planets like the Earth in the habitable zone? That's what we'd like to know - is there likely to be life? If we find lots of those planets, there probably is."