The Telegraph reports that scientists are on the brink of discovering the first Earth-like planet outside the solar system:
Professor Michel Mayor, the scientist who led the team that identified the first extrasolar planet in 1995, believes a planet similar in size and composition to Earth will soon be found.
Prof Mayor, of Geneva University, said that the prospect of finding a planet habitable for humans had come a step closer through rapid technological advances allowing observation of planets outside the solar system.
Addressing a Royal Society conference to mark the 50th anniversary of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) programme, he said: “The search for twins of Earth is motivated by the ultimate prospect of finding sites with favourable conditions for the development of life.
“We’ve entered a new phase in this search.”
More than 400 extroplanets have been discovered over the past 15 years, he added.
However, it is doubtful that any of these could be inhabited by humans because they are too large, Prof Mayor told the audience, which included representatives from Nasa, the European Space Agency and the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs.
Large planets are likely to have very active tectonic plates, making for a highly turbulent environment. To date, the smallest exoplanet found is 1.7 times the mass of the Earth.
Another key factor is finding a planet which is the right distance from the star it orbits so that its climate is temperate enough…
[continues in the Telegraph]