When will the first “Alien Earth” planet be found? Some astronomers predict the discovery of a planet resembling our own to be uncovered in 2013.
"I'm very positive that the first Earth twin will be discovered next year," Abel Mendez, of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo, told Space.com.
An “Alien Earth” planet is a celestial body that astronomers say closely resembles our own planet in its capacity to sustain life, and even complex civilizations.
Mendez isn’t the only astronomer who believes an “Alien Earth” planet may be discovered next year.
"The first planet with a measured size, orbit and incident stellar flux that is suitable for life is likely to be announced in 2013," Geoff Marcy of the University of California, Berkeley, told the website. Marcy is a member of the team monitoring distant planets using NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope.
The technology has identified 2,300 possible planets since it was launched in 2009, although only 100 planets have been confirmed since that date.
Over time, the telescope has spotted planets in the so-called “habitable zone,” a range of distances that can support liquid water, and possibly life.
Caleb Scharf, director of Columbia University’s multidisciplinary Astrobiology Center, said he believed there are planets that exist that closely resemble our own. But Scharf blogged for Scientific American that he doesn’t believe such planets have human life.
“There may be no ‘Earth-like’ planet out there, but there are almost certainly Earth-equivalent worlds – alien but nonetheless amenable to life,” he wrote.
The astronomers said there is another technology known as HARPS, or High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher, that may also find the first “Alien Earth” planet.
The HARPS telescope is in Chile and has already found planets that may be capable of supporting life, according to Space.com.
"HARPS should be able to find the most interesting and closer Earth twins," Mendez told the website. “A combination of its sensitivity and long-term observations is now paying off."
Researchers believe we may not have to look too far to find an “Alien Earth” planet; there may be one in our own Milky Way galaxy.
"Estimating carefully, there are 200 billion stars that host at least 50 billion planets, if not more," the University of Hertfordshire’s Mikko Tuomi told Space.com.
"Assuming that 1:10,000 are similar to the Earth would give us 5,000,000 such planets," he said. "So I would say we are talking about at least thousands of such planets."
What are the implications of finding an “Alien Earth” planet?
"Humanity will close its collective eyes, and set sail for Alpha Centauri," Marcy said, referring to the star system that most closely resembles Earth. An Earth-size planet was discovered on Alpha Centauri earlier this year, Space.com reported.
"The small steps for humanity will be a giant leap for our species. Sending robotic probes to the nearest stars will constitute the greatest adventure we Homo sapiens have ever attempted," Marcy continued. "This massive undertaking will require the cooperation and contribution from all major nations around world. In so doing, we will take our first tentative steps into the cosmic ocean and enhance our shared sense of purpose on this terrestrial shore."