An Earth-like Planet Only 16 Light Years Away?

Earth may have a new neighbour, in the form of an Earth-like planet in a solar system only 16 light years away. The planet orbits a star named Gliese 832, and that solar system already hosts two other known exoplanets: Gliese 832B and Gliese 832C. The findings were reported in a new paper by Suman Satyal at the University of Texas, and colleagues J. Gri?th, and Z. E. Musielak.

Gliese 832B is a gas giant similar to Jupiter, at 0.64 the mass of Jupiter, and it orbits its star at 3.5 AU. G832B probably plays a role similar to Jupiter in our Solar System, by setting gravitational equilibrium. Gliese 832C is a Super-Earth about 5 times as massive as Earth, and it orbits the star at a very close 0.16 AU. G832C is a rocky planet on the inner edge of the habitable zone, but is likely too close to its star for habitability. Gliese 832, the star at the center of it all, is a red dwarf about half the size of our Sun, in both mass and radius.

The newly discovered planet is still hypothetical at this point, and the researchers put its mass at between 1 and 15 Earth masses, and its orbit at between 0.25 to 2.0 AU from Gliese 582, its host star.

The two previously discovered planets in Gliese 832 were discovered using the radial velocity technique. Radial velocity detects planets by looking for wobbles in the host star, as it responds to the gravitational tug exerted on it by planets in orbit. These wobbles are observable through the Doppler effect, as the light of the affected star is red-shifted and blue-shifted as it moves.

The team behind this study re-analyzed the data from the Gliese 832 system, based on the idea that the vast distance between the two already-detected planets would be home to another planet. According to other solar systems studied by Kepler, it would be highly unusual for such a gap to exist.

As they say in their paper, the main thrust of the study is to explore the gravitational effect that the large outer planet has on the smaller inner planet, and also on the hypothetical Super-Earth that may inhabit the system. The team conducted numerical simulations and created models constrained by what’s known about the Gliese 832 system to conclude that an Earth-like planet may orbit Gliese 832.

This can all sound like some hocus-pocus in a way, as my non-science-minded friends like to point out. Just punch in some numbers until it shows an Earth-like planet, then publish and get attention. But it’s not. This kind of modelling and simulation is very rigorous.

Putting in all the data that’s known about the Gliese 832 system, including radial velocity data, orbital inclinations, and gravitational relationships between the planets and the star, and between the planets themselves, yields bands of probability where previously undetected planets might exist. This result tells planet hunters where to start looking for planets.

In the case of this paper, the result indicates that “there is a slim window of about 0.03 AU where an Earth-like planet could be stable as well as remain in the HZ.” The authors are quick to point out that the existence of this planet is not proven, only possible.

The other planets were found using the radial velocity method, which is pretty reliable. But radial velocity only provides clues to the existence of planets, it doesn’t prove that they’re there. Yet. The authors acknowledge that a larger number of radial velocity observations are needed to confirm the existence of this new planet. Barring that, either the transit method employed by the Kepler spacecraft, or direct observation with powerful telescopes, may also provide positive proof.

So far, the Kepler spacecraft has confirmed the existence of 1,041 planets. But Kepler can’t look everywhere for planets. Studies like these are crucial in giving Kepler starting points in its search for exoplanets. If an exoplanet can be confirmed in the Gliese 832 system, then it also confirms the accuracy of the simulation that the team behind this paper performed.

If confirmed, G832 C would join a growing list of exoplanets. It wasn’t long ago that we knew almost nothing about other solar systems. We only had knowledge of our own. And even though it was always unlikely that our Solar System would for some reason be special, we had no certain knowledge of the population of exoplanets in other solar systems.

Studies like this one point to our growing understanding of the dynamics of other solar systems, and the population of exoplanets in the Milky Way, and most likely throughout the cosmos.

13 Replies to “An Earth-like Planet Only 16 Light Years Away?”

  1. Well I am confused here. The statement “If confirmed, G832 C would join a growing list of exoplanets.” seems to contradict the earlier statement “”Gliese 832C is a Super-Earth about 5 times as massive as Earth, and it orbits the star at a very close 0.16 AU.” So are the numbers muddled up? Would the new planet actually be Gliese 832D if confirmed, or what?

  2. I suspect its called the Goldilocks zone because like in the story, we see evidence of something but don’t know any details. In the story the girl messes up the place and has little respect for the place however the point is that until the Bears find her, they observe indirect evidence of what transpired.

    Of course once they found that little brat sleeping in their bed, im sure they had a nice dinner soon after. By that I mean they ate her. lol.

    So Articles saying (Earth Like Planet) are false. We cant directly observe these planets in real time so we don’t know anything other than that something is there. Earth like implies its rocky, has liquid water, a livable gravity and other ingredients to support life.

    So im sure NASA doesn’t go around saying “Hey we found an Earth like planet!” More likely they say they discovered another potential planet. All though im sure they would also admit it could be a clump of rocks with no atmosphere.

    So authors of these articles need to do a little more research instead of trying to generate clicks on their stories. Unless NASA actually said it was Earth like and that’s a direct quote in which I would then grill them the same, the authors need to spend a little more time being careful just how they word things. Saying a planet we cant see or possibly know anything about is “Earth Like” with no direct evidence to back it up is making an assumption. Science doesn’t deal in assumption no matter how likely it may be.

    This is similar to the concept of money we never see. Sure a company may be an estimated worth of a couple million dollars. But until you cash that company in you really don’t have any way of confirming that. You may have indirect evidence of assets and estimated profits etc. But that’s all paperwork and imaginary money existing as numbers on a computer which can be changed or created out of thin air (Like interest rates). Interests is fictional money (or debt) being generated and used to predict that a company may be worth more based on its debt. But when they actual debt is called in, if the money doesn’t exists then it doesn’t matter how much is owed if its none existent. Like the housing crash.

    So we cant go around saying there are all these Earth Like planets till we can see it, interact with it and call in those chips when we need them to escape Earth. We show up expecting a new home only to find out its gone or just a ball of solid ice.

    Like the money, we can say we are worth a bunch of it because so many people owe us so much of it based on fictional currency and not physical payment. Yet when we need to call in that money to prove it exists in the form of something physically real, its not there. If the world economy collapses. All that fictional money means nothing. It will be about what you have physically and the services you can provide or assets you can barter. No one will care if your worth a Trillion dollars if what they need is water and food and no one has any. Wont do us any good to say a planet is “Earth Like” if we don’t actually know if it really is or not.

    Thanks for wasting time with Chris. lol

  3. “We Earthlings”, need to find other planets to travel to, that way we can form a uniform consensus here on earth and travel to these distant lands and wage war on their inhabitants. Rather than, constantly being at war here, with each other. I mean “God’s People”, the “Middle Easterners”. have always been at war with one another, clearly that is all in preparation of Space travel, the sacrifices “Earthlings” will have to make to save the Planet from Space invaders, once “Earthlings”, are able to travel through space.

    The only concern one would have would be the ” American type”, Aliens, who would come to Earth to enslave it’s inhabitants and take away all of it’s vital resources. Even worse, those who would use Atomic or some other form of Electromagnetic weaponry, that would destroy Earth. If America would use Nuclear Weapons against the Japanese, then I am almost certain a super-intelligent race of beings would, ultimately condemn all Earth’s inhabitants to certain death, for all it’s beings behavioral and social issues. The current election and the corruption and greed involved in it, would be a prime example of why a Super-intelligent race, would in no way, entertain Earth’s inhabitants.

    Maybe the People of Earth should just stick to gravity and like a disease, die with it’s host?

    1. Maybe you need to give your own species something of a break. If we liken the 13.4 billion year age of the universe to a single cosmic day, then we didn’t even show up until 23:59: 58.7! Only a very few humans could vaguely read and write 6000 standard years ago. As a species, we’re not more than toddlers and it’s early days. Given sufficient time, don’t you think we can evolve, and learn from past mistakes? Our cosmically radiated future is rife with vibrant new possibilities–infinitely many, not just one or zero. There is room for optimism on the eternal time scale. Don’t give up on us quite so easily.

      Moreover, don’t be so sure that other evolved species from other parts of the universe/multiverse would necessarily be homicidally hostile. Humans, at large, aren’t anticipating moving into space killing off every living thing in our path. What makes you think space aliens would be certain to have opposite motivation, especially if our species didn’t happen to share similar habitats–which is very possible?

  4. What’s with all these weirdo comments? I just like to read a nice article about our new exoplanet overlords, and find out when to put on my tinfoil hat and hide in the basement!

  5. They have NO idea if this is a planet, much less if it is Earthlike. Think about it. 16 light years X 6 trillions miles. Please…

  6. A red dwarf is so unlike our own dwarf, it kinda throws me off. Alpha Centauri with 2 stars like ours still sounds more exciting withthe possibilities.

  7. Articles like this come up frequently. But, most are really hazy on details, which is hardly surprising, since they relate events on the fringes of our scientific horizon. So, mostly, I take them with the proverbial grain of salt.

    Over time, however, summing many articles together, there is a bedrock factual base building up. Not so long ago, exoplanets were nothing but speculation and science fiction. Today, it’s accepted in the main stream that as many as 2000+ exoplanets have been discovered in over 1000 planetary systems. Conclusion? As many previously hypothesized, exoplanets aren’t at all rare in our galaxy, and probably not rare across the known universe.

    Given that we’re here, probability would seem to dictate that there must be more habitable exoplanets out there. Now, let’s stop making excuses, as we have since the mid-1970’s, get up off our duffs, take leave of our ‘nursery’ and get out there, explore and colonize. In this universe, we well know that sitting around in one spot is virtually certain to court disaster. Earth, itself, has already had 5 major extinction events. Fully 99% of all living species are no longer extant. Will |-|omo sapiens prove truly sapient?

  8. “Only 16 Light Years Away”

    When I read that I wonder if the write has any clue what they are saying. I understand on the scale of our Galaxy, and also of the universe itself, that 16 light years is an infinitesimal pittance, but to us that distance is insane.

    We’re bone supported jelly blobs that live in a super thin margin of temperatures, and are damn lucky to have this wonderful blue ball with it’s protective magnetic field, its water, and its atmosphere.

    16 Light years? That’s only 94,057,805,491,200 miles. 94 Trillion Miles.

    In other words, that’s roughly 25,629 times the average distance to Pluto. Took our fastest (non-human occupied) spaceship 10 years to get there.

    16 light years is a long ass way.

    “Only” here is ridiculous, or….maybe not, if you simply factor humans out of the equation.

    1. At 0.1C, it’s just 160 light years away. 🙂 With ever increasing longevity, it won’t be long until 160 years is just a single lifetime.

      1. 160 years in space….

        Guessing we’re talking a multi-generational trip here…… ?

        .1C is a huge speed (67,000,000 MPH) – I have no idea the amount of energy required to boost a spaceship capable of hosting humans [for 160 years] to that speed. Suffice to say, a lot!

        And when they arrive…, do they still have bones to support the g-forces required to slow down?

        Guessing this is a mission 100 years in the future, if we don’t tear the planet apart by then.

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