Two new Earth-sized alien planets have been located in a star system a mere 12 light-years away. Both worlds are thought to be rocky, temperate, and orbit within the “Goldilocks Zone” of their ultra-cool M dwarf sun named Teegarden’s Star, making them prime candidates for extraterrestrial life. This latest discovery was made after a three-year observation period using the CARMENES instrument at the Calar Alto Observatory in Spain, and the full details are available as a pre-publication in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.
Teegarden’s Star is estimated to be about 8 billion years old, twice our sun’s age, meaning that any potential life on its planets would have had a significant amount of time to evolve well beyond our own civilizations’ advances. The dwarf star also has minimal solar activity at the surface, making the conditions for life even more promising for any orbiting bodies. Further, its close proximity to Earth further makes Teegarden a good candidate for scientific analysis in the future, i.e., scanning for signs of life.
In the publication detailing the Teegarden planets, it’s additionally noted that our solar system is currently within the transit zone as seen from Teegarden’s Star.
“For any potential Teegardians, the Earth will be observable as a transiting planet from 2044 until 2496,” the publication details.
Planetary transits across host stars is the most successful method of identifying exoplanets via telescope, although in Teegarden’s case a method called radial-velocity was used. Essentially, if intelligent life exists on either newly-discovered planet, it would theoretically be able to soon identify our own home planet for hundreds of years using the same methods we’ve used to identify other alien planets.
This is the latest chapter in the hunt for life in the universe that has been rewarding efforts exponentially since the Kepler telescope mission went online in 2009. Thousands of exoplanets have been identified in the years since, and dozens of those candidates could potentially host life based on their orbital locations. As discoveries like these become even more commonplace, perhaps so will the expectation that signs of intelligent life will soon follow.
It’s always exciting when new planets are found, and the imagination especially runs wild when 1) a planet is Earth-sized; 2) a planet could host life as we know it; 3) the planet is close to us; and 4) the planet could see us if its life is intelligent and technically advanced. Let me repeat that: We could have alien neighbors orbiting Teegarden’s Star that will be able to see us through their telescopes soon. It’s quite extraordinary to think about.
Another thing to note about these types of discoveries – we’ve just landed on the tip of the planetary-discovery iceberg in our universe. It’s important to remember that the thousands of planets Kepler has discovered are coming from a tiny patch of sky about the size of your outstretched hand, and the biggest lesson we’ve learned so far is that there are more planets than there are stars we can see. According to MIT planetary scientist Sara Seager, about 25% of the planets out there are in their stars’ habitable zone as well. From all this (and more), I cannot wait to be able to discuss the subject of aliens without the stigma currently attached to it.