TRAPPIST 2.0? Scientists discover four Earth-sized planets orbiting Sun-like star!

University of Hertfordshire: Two Potentially Habitable Planets Detected Orbiting the Nearest Sun-Like Star

"We're getting tantalisingly close to observing the correct limits required for detecting Earth-like planets", said study author Fabo Feng, from the University of Hertfordshire.

The team, led by researchers at the University of Hertfordshire, discovered the "Super Earths" orbiting the Tau Ceti solar system right within the habitable corridor known as the "goldilocks zone".

Researchers led by Fabo Feng from the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom detected the four exoplanets by registering extremely slight wobbles in Tau Ceti's movement, due to the gravitational pull of smaller astronomical bodies. "Our detection of such weak wobbles is a milestone in the search for Earth analogs".

They dubbed two of the four planets "super-Earths", so-called because they have masses of around 1.7 Earth mass, larger than Earth but among the smallest planets ever detected around the nearest sun-like stars.

Tau Ceti is a star of approximate brightness and structure to our own sun, being only slightly smaller and dimmer, and sits about 12 light-years away, making it one of the 20 closest stars to us. While that makes life improbable, the discovery is still important because of the techniques used.

Sun-like stars are thought to be the best targets in the search for habitable Earth-like planets due to their similarity to the sun.

Smaller planets require extra precision since the wobble is smaller and they can be harder to spot.

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Like the sun, it has a "habitable zone", a narrow region around it where conditions are favorable for Earth-like life.

Although the two outer planets may have liquid water, another obstacle stands in the way of extraterrestrial life. A habitable zone planet could have oceans, lakes and rivers. Among other recent prospects, Tau Ceti may be farther than another much-hoped-for candidate, Proxima b (4.2 light-years away), but it's closer than the TRAPPIST-1 cohort (about 39 light-years distant).

The data were obtained by using the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) spectrograph, an instrument installed on the 3.6-m telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile, combined with the High-Resolution Echelle Spectrometer (HIRES) at the W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawaii. They came up with an ingenious way of telling the difference between signals caused by planets and those caused by a star's activity.

"We realized that we could see how the star's activity differed at different wavelengths and use that information to separate this activity from signals of planets", said Dr Tuomi, lead researcher back in 2013.

In 2012, University of Hertfordshire astronomer Dr. Mikko Tuomi and co-authors announced the discovery of five potential planets in the tau Ceti system, labeled tau Ceti b, c, d, e and f.

Two of them - tau Ceti e and f - are located on the inner and outer edges of the habitable zone, respectively. It has allowed the team to rule out two signals that had previously been identified as planets in 2013, leaving four worlds circling Tau Ceti.

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