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Astronomers find planets in our cosmic backyard

By Marshall Connolly (Catholic Online)
December 24th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

As Catholic Online reported last week, a new astronomical discovery has the scientific community abuzz. Five more planets have been discovered around a star that closely resembles our sun. And at least one of them is within the star's "Goldilocks zone."

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Hugh Jones of the University of Hertfordshire says he and his colleagues have discovered no less than five planets orbiting Tau Ceti, a star which is just 12 light-years away.

Tau Ceti is a sun-like star in the constellation Cetus, (the whale) and can been seen with the naked eye. What's more is astronomers studying the light from the star have detected five planets orbiting it. One of those is within the star's Goldilocks zone, a band of space around the star where liquid water could possibly exist.

This intrigues astronomers because liquid water is a prerequisite for life as we know it.

Tau Ceti has long been regarded as a hopeful place, since the star is so much like our sun and it is close to the Earth. In fact, scientists from the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence project (SETI) have listened in to the star repeatedly over the years hoping to detect signs of life there.

Unfortunately, their hopes are probably doomed. Although there are so many things right with the star, there is at least one thing wrong. The star is still surrounded by a substantial disk of stellar debris, much like our solar system was soon after its formation. We know from studying the formation of our solar system, this means that large asteroid impacts must be common on those planets.

Those impacts would almost certainly prevent intelligent and complex life from evolving since any life there would be destroyed with each periodic, cataclysmic impact. We know this because it's happened here on Earth. Tau Ceti has ten times more debris in orbit than our sun.

Ultimately, researchers have concluded that Tau Ceti isn't the kind of place where humans, or anyone else is likely to live. Still, it's amazing to see such wonders of creation in our cosmic backyard.

Read more: What happens if we find life out there?

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