Finally, we’ll have a spot for humanity to open a second franchise? Live Science writes:
The first truly Earth-like alien planet is likely to be spotted next year, an epic discovery that would cause humanity to reassess its place in the universe. “I’m very positive that the first Earth twin will be discovered next year,” said Abel Mendez, who runs the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo.
Astronomers discovered the first exoplanet orbiting a sunlike star in 1995. Since they, they’ve spotted more than 800 worlds beyond our own solar system, and many more candidates await confirmation by follow-up observations. A number of exoplanets found over the last few years share one or two key traits with our own world — such as size or inferred surface temperature — but they have yet to bag a bona fide “alien Earth.”
NASA’s prolific Kepler Space Telescope, for example, has flagged more than 2,300 potential planets since its March 2009 launch. Only 100 or so have been confirmed to date, but mission scientists estimate that at least 80 percent will end up being the real deal.
Mendez isn’t the only researcher who thinks that time is coming soon. “The first planet with a measured size, orbit and incident stellar flux that is suitable for life is likely to be announced in 2013,” said Geoff Marcy, a veteran planet hunter at the University of California, Berkeley, and a member of the Kepler team.
Mendez and Marcy both think this watershed find will be made by Kepler, which spots planets by flagging the telltale brightness dips caused when they pass in front of their parent stars from the instrument’s perspective.
Whenever the first Earth twin is confirmed, the discovery will likely have a profound effect on humanity. Marcy hopes such a find will prod our species to take its first real steps beyond its native solar system. “Humanity will close its collective eyes, and set sail for Alpha Centauri,” Marcy said, referring to the closest star system to our own, where an Earth-size planet was discovered earlier this year.