Alien Earth Planet To Bring Epic Discovery In 2013

Alien life could be found next year on a planet similar to Earth, and that could change everything for mankind, including where we come from and how we got here.

It’s an interesting topic as astronomers find a number of exoplanets over the last few years that share one or two key traits with our own world — such as size or inferred surface temperature — they have yet to bag a bona fide “alien Earth.” But that should change in 2013, scientists say.

“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 sun-like 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.

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.

The first exoplanet finds were scorching-hot Jupiter-like worlds that orbit close to their parent stars, because they were the easiest to detect. But over time, new instruments came online and planet hunters honed their techniques, enabling the discovery of smaller and more distantly orbiting planets — places more like Earth.

Kepler is one planet that shows some promise, although it’s about 2 1/2 times larger than Earth, and orbiting in its star’s habitable zone, which is just the right range of distance for life.

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