One of Five Possible Planets Circling Tau Ceti Could Be Habitable - Astronomers

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By Arlene Paredes | December 20, 2012 9:35 AM EST

Astronomers have spotted five possible planets within Earth's vast neighborhood. One of these relatively nearby planets could be habitable, according to a study.

The five astronomical bodies have yet to be officially called planets because studies are still ongoing. But a couple of things can be shared with the public as early as now.

7 Things To Know About Astronomers' Studies into Possible 5-Planet Tau Ceti System

1. The five candidate planets are revolving around a star called Tau Ceti, which is only about 12 light-years from Earth.

2. Due to its relatively close proximity, Tau Ceti is visible to the naked eye in the constellation Cetus (the Whale). It is smaller and less intense than the sun.

3. One of the five possible planets has been observed to be within the right distance from Tau Ceti. It is possible for liquid water to exist in its environment. As such, life as we know it could be possible there.

4. The possible planet is estimated to be at least 4.3 times more massive than Earth. Once verified, it will be the smallest Earth-like planet ever discovered. It takes 168 days for this candidate planet to circle Tau Ceti .

5. "It is impossible to tell the composition, but I do not consider this particular planet to be very likely to have a rocky surface," lead study author Mikko Tuomi, of the University of Hertfordshire in England, told SPACE.com.

Tuomi carefully expressed nothing has been confirmed but "we cannot rule out the possibility that it indeed is of planetary origin."

6. Early studies around Tau Ceti led to nothing. The latest study made use of three elite spectrographs from Chile, Australia and Hawaii.

7. "Planetary systems found around nearby stars close to our sun indicate that these systems are common in our Milky Way galaxy." This is the implication of the latest study findings, according to James Jenkins, of the Universidad de Chile and the University of Hertfordshire.

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