Earlier this week Professor Michel Mayor, of Geneva University predicted that I earnestly hope comes true: The prediction is that astronomers will detect the first Earth-like planet outside the solar system during 2010
Addressing a Royal Society conference to mark the 50th anniversary of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) programme, Prof. Mayor (who led the team that discovered the first exoplanet in 1995) 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.”
Over the last 15 years more than 400 exoplanets have been discovered. However, very few if any of them are likely to be viable candidates for incubating life, as most of them are too large.
He said that Nasa’s Kepler spacecraft will be the first to find an earth like planet. Kepler, which has been in orbit around the Sun since March last year, is focused on a dense star field in the Orion spiral arm of the Milky Way. Monitoring more than 100,000 stars every half-hour for three years, it is looking for variations in the brightness of stars caused by planets as small as Earth passing in front of them.
Professor Paul Davies, an astrophysicist at Arizona State University, also spoke. “When I was a student, I couldn’t find anyone who took the idea of life elsewhere in the Universe seriously. Now it’s pretty much the party line in the scientific community. A big part of that has been the discovery of extrasolar planets,” he said.
It would be great to hear of the discovery or an earth-like planet this year... if not then next year!