One of the great dreams of the 21st century is to get the heck off this rock for good, whether it’s Elon Musk trying to colonize Mars or the Kepler team’s ongoing discovery of planets across our galaxy. But the main question for astronomers is whether or not there are any planets in our relative neighborhood. And now it turns out there might be.
Astronomers at the University of Hertfordshire and the University of California Santa Cruz have discovered four Earth-sized planets in orbit around Tau Ceti, a sun-like star in our same celestial city, so to speak. Even better, two are in the habitable zone, the Goldilocks distance that allows liquid water to form on a planet. This is particularly interesting because it helps refine a technique to find other Earth-like planets based on how stars “wobble,” tracking the minute gravitational effects of planets on the stars that orbit them.
There is, of course, a catch. Tau Ceti has an enormous amount of celestial space garbage circling it, meaning that any habitable planet around the star is likely being pounded by asteroids at a much higher rate than Earth. Living there would entail either living in bunkers or figuring out how to deflect all those burning rocks from our fragile futuristic space colonies. Still, this discovery is important both for refining the techniques and giving astronomers more idea of what to look for with sun-like stars. After all, if Tau Ceti is much like our own solar system, that implies there are other “friendly” systems out there worth discovering. And, in some far future, moving to.