London: An Earth-like planet is likely to be discovered outside the solar system by this yearend, a leading astronomer has claimed.
According to Prof Michel Mayor of Geneva University, who led the team that discovered the first extrasolar planet in 1995, a planet of a similar size and composition to Earth
will be found in near future -- by 2010, `The Times` reported.
"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," he said at a Royal Society conference in London.
He said that dramatic technological progress over the past 15 years had led to the discovery of more than 400 exoplanets orbiting stars similar to the Sun.
However, very few if any of the the planets discovered so far are likely to be viable candidates for incubating life, as most of them are too large. Very large planets are likely
to have very active tectonic plates, making for a turbulent environment.
A further condition for a planet to be habitable is that it orbits its star at such a distance that its water would be liquid. "If the planet`s too close, it`ll be blazing hot and all the water will evaporate and if it`s too far away, it will be ice," Prof Mayor said.
He said that Nasa`s Kepler spacecraft, which is carrying the largest telescope to have been sent beyond the Earth`s orbit, will be the first to find a planet that meets both these criteria.
The telescope, 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.