60-Second Science

Earth-Like World May Be Just 13 Light-Years Away

Researchers estimate that 6 percent of red dwarf stars may be orbited by Earth-like planets, including a candidate 13 light-years off. Karen Hopkin reports

Astronomers have searched far and wide for planets that are the right size and in the right place to support life. Well, maybe they should have set their sights a little closer to home. Because a new study suggests that there may be Earth-like planets just 13 light-years away. The results will be published in The Astrophysical Journal. [Courtney D. Dressing and David Charbonneau, The Occurrence Rate of Small Planets around Small Stars]

To look for worlds that are about the same size as our own, scientists focused their attention, and the planet-seeking Kepler telescope, on red dwarves. These stars are about a third the size of our sun, which is a plus for detecting planets, because an Earth-size body would block more of a smaller star’s light, making it easier to spot.

Looking at the red dwarves that have already been ‘scoped out by Kepler, the scientists discovered that 60 percent of them have planets smaller than Neptune, and 6 percent have planets as warm and cozy as our beloved Earth.

Now, three out of every four stars in our galaxy is a red dwarf. So if some four billion stars in our neighborhood alone shine on an Earth-like planet, our extrasolar backyard may turn be a pretty lively place.

—Karen Hopkin

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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