Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Three new super-Earths that could support life, relatively nearby -

Three new super-Earths that could support life, relatively nearby - 

A team of astronomers has announced that a star in the (relatively) nearby Scorpion constellation hosts a system of six planets -- three of which are super-Earths sitting in the habitable zone where liquid water, and therefore life, could exist.

The discovery sets a new record: astronomers have never before found three planets like this all in the habitable zone of the same system. Super-Earths are planets with more mass than our Earth but less than a planet like Uranus or Neptune.

According to the announcement, this star, Gliese 667c, is very well studied -- three planets had already been discovered orbiting it, one of which sits in the habitable zone. 

But the new discovery occurred after a team led by researchers in Germany and the U.K. re-examined the star using data from the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile; the Magellan II telescope, also in Chile; the Keck telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii; and other pre-existing research.

"Instead of looking at ten stars to look for a single potentially habitable planet, we now know we can look at just one star and find several of them,” said co-author Rory Barnes of the University of Washington in a statement. In theory, that means there could be a higher number of habitable planets in the solar system.

Gliese 667c is a third of the mass of our sun and sits 22 light years away in a triple star system -- so anyone sitting on one of the newly-discovered planets and looking up would see a regular sun and two very bright stars that, at night, would provide as much light as a full moon, according to the announcement.

The discovery of the new planets means the system is so chock-full it could not support the orbit of another planet.

The research will appear in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.


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