The search for a habitable extrasolar planet has long interested scientists, but only recently have the tools become available to search for such planets. In the past decades, the number of known extrasolar planets has ballooned into the hundreds, and with it the expectation that the discovery of the first Earth-like extrasolar planet is not far off. Here we develop a novel metric of habitability for discovered planets, and use this to arrive at a prediction for when the first habitable planet will be discovered. Using a bootstrap analysis of currently discovered exoplanets, we predict the discovery of the first Earth-like planet to be announced in the first half of 2011, with the likeliest date being early May 2011. Our predictions, using only the properties of previously discovered exoplanets, accord well with external estimates for the discovery of the first potentially habitable extrasolar planet, and highlights the the usefulness of predictive scientometric techniques to understand the pace of scientific discovery in many fields.
The Kepler space telescope which was launched in March last year specifically to find extrasolar planets. The team released its first data in June and this is currently being analysed. The first set of candidate planets are due to be announced in February next year.
Many astronomers expect this set to include a habitable Earth-like planet. But according to Arbesman and Laughlin, they’ll have to wait a little longer. “Because of the limited time base line of the mission to date, the Kepler planet candidates to published in February 2011 may be too hot to support significant values for H [their habitability metric],” they say.
Which means that somebody else is line to take this prize. That’s not so far-fetched. Various new techniques have made Earth-bound telescopes almost as sensitive as Kepler and certainly on the verge of finding Earth 2.0.