Earth-like planet just 13 light years away

Published On: Feb 06 2013 03:00:57 PM EST
Updated On: Feb 06 2013 02:06:12 PM EST
Red dwarf planet

Credit: D. Aguilar/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

The artist's conception shows a hypothetical planet with two moons orbiting
in the habitable zone of a red dwarf star. Click image for full caption and larger size.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -

Earth-like worlds may be closer and more plentiful than anyone imagined.

Astronomers reported Wednesday that the closest Earth-like planet may be just 13 light years away. That planet hasn't been found yet, but should be there based on the team's study of red dwarf stars. Galactically speaking, that's a stroll across the park.

"We don't know if life could exist on a planet orbiting a red dwarf, but the findings pique my curiosity and leave me wondering if the cosmic cradles of life are more diverse than we humans have imagined," said Natalie Batalha, Kepler mission scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center.

Small, cool red dwarfs are the most common stars in our galaxy, numbering 75 billion.

The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics team estimates 6 percent of red dwarf stars have Earth-like planets. To qualify, the planet must be roughly the size of Earth and get as much light from its star, as Earth does from the sun.

This high rate of occurrence should simplify the search for extraterrestrial life.

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