(NEW YORK) — Perhaps Earthlings aren’t alone in their celestial neighborhood.
An international team of scientists has discovered at least one new habitable planet – and, considering the vastness of space, this planet is fairly close.
A planet with conditions that can sustain life is one of five orbiting a star neighboring the sun, astronomers from the United Kingdom, USA, Chile and Australia recently revealed in an official statement. The star, called Tau Ceti, is located 12 light years away.
In an interview with ABC News, Steven Vogt, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said he believed there actually might be two planets in the Tau Ceti system with “conditions conducive to life” – though the official announcement described just one.
“In order for a planet to be inhabitable, it should lie in a zone that is neither too hot nor too cold to allow for liquid surface water and, potentially, life,” said Vogt, who was part of the international team that made the discovery.
A planet with a mass approximately five times that of Earth was the smallest planet found to be orbiting in the habitable zone of any Sun-like star, said a statement issued by the team of researchers.
The findings came after almost 14 years of gathering data from more than 6,000 observations from three different telescopes located in Chile, Australia and Hawaii.
“What is unique about this star is it’s amazingly nearby – that you can actually see it with the naked eye,” said Vogt. “There are nearly 18 stars that are this close to us. This is the 19th closest star, and that is why it is special.”
The results of the study followed the use of a new mathematical computational method that employed noise modelling, allowing the team to detect the new planets and their conditions.
“We chose Tau Ceti for this noise modeling study because we had thought it contained no signals,” said Hugh Jones from the University of Hertfordshire. “And as it is so bright and similar to our Sun, it is an ideal benchmark system to test out our methods for the detection of small planets.”
Jones is one of numerous astronomers on the team that also includes James Jenkins from the Universidad de Chile, a visiting fellow at the University of Hertfordshire; Chris Tinney of the University of New South Wales and Mikko Tuomi from the University of Hertfordshire.
Tuomi was the lead mathematician behind the mathematical noise modeling employed in the research.
Other scientists included Paul Butler of Carnegie Institution for Science, Simon O’Toole of the Australian Astronomical Observatory and Brad Carter from the University of Southern Queensland.
John Barnes and David Pinfield were also involved and supported by the University of Hertfordshire.
“This is an exciting study, and we look forward to many more similar findings – as it seems very common that lots of stars have their own planets which we can look into,” Tinney told ABC News.
“The emerging knowledge from this study is that it is almost certain to us now that almost every star has its own planets orbiting around it,” said Vogt. “This means there might be more planets than there are stars.”
Vogt added that even though there are numerous planets with similar habitable conditions, the team’s future strategy would be to focus on those nearest to Earth.
“This is very interesting because it allows for the possibility of sending robotics, sending signals, and have two-way communication with some life that might be out there,” he said.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Evan McKirdy, Tim Hume and James Masters, CNN
Ben Westcott, CNN
Camille Verdier, Steve Visser and Margot Haddad, CNN