Where’s the nearest planet where we could all live?

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1. Worlds amongst the stars

Exoplanets – planets outside our Solar System – were first proposed in the 16th Century. Galileo realised our Sun was a star like any other and Copernicus showed how our Solar System’s planets orbit around it. So it seemed fair to assume that planets existed elsewhere in the galaxy, orbiting stars of their own. But it would take hundreds of years to develop telescopes powerful enough to find out whether they did.

The first exoplanet was detected in 1995 and thousands more have been discovered since. At first, we could only see gas giants, similar to Jupiter. Now instruments are sensitive enough to detect planets tantalisingly similar to Earth. We don’t know whether different planets could be home to alien life, very different to us. But for us, we'd need a planet similar to Earth to have any chance of living there.

But we may never find a suitable second home. Find out why.

2. CLICKABLE: Looking for a Goldilocks planet

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Astronomers look for planets that are just like Earth using the ‘Goldilocks’ principle – they have to be just the right type; have the right temperature and atmosphere and orbit the right sort of star.

3. The likely contenders

We have discovered a great range of exoplanets, but we still know very little about our nearest galactic neighbours. The image gallery shows artists' impressions of our distant and mysterious neighbours.

Kepler-8b was one of the first exoplanets spotted by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft. It is a hot, Jupiter-like planet that orbits a much bigger star than our own. It is heated to around 1,200 C and it is not a suitable planet for us to live on.

NASA - Artist's impression

NASA/JPL-Caltech

Kepler-10c and Kepler-10b inhabit one of the solar systems known to contain multiple planets, like ours. Kepler-10b was the first Earth-sized planet to be discovered. It orbits its star every 20 hours, much too close for human life to survive.

NASA - Artist's impression

NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

Kepler-20f is closer in size to Earth than any other planet ever discovered. However, it orbits too close to its star to be habitable, as it is heated to hundreds of degrees C – hot enough to melt some metals.

NASA - Artist's impression

NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

Kepler-452b was discovered in 2015, the first super-Earth sized planet to be found. It orbits a star similar to our Sun with a year of 385 days, and is a little warmer than Earth. However, it is likely to be covered in volcanoes.

NASA - Artist's impression

NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Kepler Spacecraft is one of several telescopes that detects exoplanets by observing subtle dips in brightness as they pass in front of their stars. It has detected over 1,000 exoplanets, which are named after the spacecraft.

NASA - Artist's impression

NASA/JPL

An Earth-like exoplanet was discovered in 2016 around Earth's nearest neighbouring star, Proxima Centauri. This was discovered by ground-based telescope. The planet could support liquid water and is a good candidate for further observations.

ESO/M. Kornmesser

ESO/M. Kornmesser

4. WATCH: Where in the galaxy are they?

Discover what an exoplanet is and where we've been looking for them by watching the animation.

5. Could we ever get there?

Unfortunately, it will be a long time before we can visit these places. Which of these factors do you think will present the greatest obstacle?

Great distance

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Great distance

The closest exoplanets would take tens of thousands of years to reach with current technology. Even the nearest exoplanet is four light years away.

Hostile environments

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Hostile environments

No planet has been discovered that is similar enough to Earth to inhabit right away. The resources and time needed to alter a planet would be immense.

Hazardous journeys

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Hazardous journeys

Space travel is dangerous due to deadly radiation. Astronauts are already put at increased risk during the short periods they spend in space.