Astronomers discover another planet that just might support life

So far, our search for Martians and other extraterrestrial forms of life hasn't quite panned out, but that doesn't stop us from continuing to look. Now astronomers at the University of Hertfordshire in England have discovered a new system of planets, which in many ways are remarkably similar to our own neighborhood and may even support life.

The six planets orbit a star called Tau Ceti, and I guess the naming committee must have been on strike when they found them because they gave them the catchy names Tau Ceti b, c, d, e and f. Before you ask, I have no clue what happened to Tau Ceti a.

Tau Ceti (the star) is fairly easy to see in the night sky with the naked eye, but its planets have remained hidden until just recently due their weak visual profile. A measurement technique that can spot their tiny gravitational pulls on their star was used to bring them out of the gloom.

Astronomers are excited because Tau Ceti itself is similar to our own sun, and the planets aren't too dissimilar from our solar system in size and distance. Tau Ceti e is the one that's got the boffins all worked up, since it's sitting in what's known as the 'habitable zone' where it's not too hot or too cold to sustain life. While it may be able to host some life forms, we should point out that Tau Ceti e is actually about four times the size of Earth, making it unlikely that humans would be able to survive comfortably for very long on its surface.

Just in case Newt 'Moon Base' Gingrich thinks this might be the perfect place to set up his space colony, he should note that Tau Ceti is about 12 light years away. That's just around the corner in interstellar terms, but it works out to about 70,543,506,494,980 miles or so. If we used the fastest space vehicle we currently have, it would take a little over 100,000 years to get there. That's 438,000,000 in-flight movies. Enjoy the trip!

Via New Scientist

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