“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,” said Courtney Dressing of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). Six percent of red-dwarf stars have habitable, Earth-sized planets, astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) have found. Red dwarfs are the most common stars in our galaxy; about 75 percent of the closest stars are red dwarfs. The closest Earth-like planet could be just 13 light-years away, Harvard astronomer and lead author Courtney Dressing calculated.
Locating nearby Earth-like worlds may require a dedicated small space telescope, or a large network of ground-based telescopes. Follow-up studies with instruments like the Giant Magellan Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope could tell us whether any warm, transiting planets have an atmosphere and further probe its chemistry. Since red dwarf stars live much longer than Sun-like stars, this discovery raises the interesting possibility that life on such a planet would be much older and more evolved than life on Earth.
Courtney D. Dressing, David Charbonneau, The occurrence rate of small planets around small stars, The Astrophysical Journal, 2013, in press
Daily Galaxy via Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Image credit: http://us-of-alaska.deviantart.com/art/Red-Dwarf-with-Planet-and-Moon-131323840