Smaller IS Better.

At least when you are talking about habitable planets.

Astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics that the nearest planet in a habitable zone probably lies within fifteen light-years of Earth. This announcement was made after  analyzing recent data from the recently crippled Kepler Mission.

Kepler has revolutionized our understanding of exoplanets and what they are made of.  As seems to be typical with the human race, scientists are really trying to find Earth-sized planets residing in habitable zones around their stars.  The hope being that we can find ourselves somewhere else in the Universe.

Scientists also believe that these planets are the only types of planets that can harbor life.  I am skeptical of this reasoning as we have found life unlike ours on our own planet, let alone have any idea of what is capable elsewhere in the Universe.

But, following current convention, Kepler has identified a host of exoplanets with orbits that are capable of producing surface temperatures that allow water to remain liquid, which scientists have deemed a prerequisite for the development of life.

It turns out that there are about 12 times as many small stars (M-dwarfs about 1/2 the size of our sun) with surface temperatures less than about 4000K.

Hunting for Earth-sized planets around M-dwarfs, therefore, is now particularly interesting to researchers.  Not too long ago, it was believed that the possibilities of habitable planets around M-Dwarfs was small due to the cooler star temperature and the potential that any planet would be tidally lock to the star (like the way the Moon is tidally locked and always facing Earth).  Additionally, small stars tend to flare more which could have deleterious effects on any closely orbiting planet.

New research, however, suggests that suitable habitable regions might develop on a planet anyway. Since there are a lot more small stars, and  it is easier to find and study their planets scientists have begun to concentrate their efforts there.

So far using Kepler data, scientist have  identify 64 dwarf stars and 95 candidate planets.  Just from this data, the statistical probability is that there should be one Earth-sized planet on every 6th star.

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California. As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +