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article imageESO astronomers discover super-Earth that could harbour life

By Andrew Moran     Sep 13, 2011 in Science
Geneva - Astronomers, utilizing the European Southern Observatory's HARPS at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, have discovered a total of 50 exoplanets, including 16 super-Earths, orbiting nearby stars. This is the largest number presented at one time.
Extrasolar planets, or otherwise known as exoplanets, are planets that are outside our solar system. A lot of stars contain planets, including at least 10 percent of stars that are similar to our own sun.
On Sunday, there were 627 known exoplanets. One day later, there were 677 identified exoplanets.
According to a press release from the European Southern Observatory (ESO), scientists have found 50 new exoplanets, including 16 super-Earths and planets similar to Neptune. Many of these planets host Sun-like stars, which could be possible that they could harbour life.
A super-Earth is an exoplanet that has a mass higher than our planet, but lower than Jupiter and Saturn.
Astronomers utilized the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher spectrograph on the ESO’s telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile to make the discovery. The “planet hunter” is considered to be the world’s most successful planet finder.
“The harvest of discoveries from HARPS has exceeded all expectations and includes an exceptionally rich population of super-Earths and Neptune-type planets hosted by stars very similar to our Sun,” said lead researcher from the University of Geneva, Michel Mayor. “And even better — the new results show that the pace of discovery is accelerating.”
Scientists highlighted that HDB85512b could be the best planet to discover life. This planet is only 3.6 times the mass of the Earth, is located at the edge of the habitable zone – also labelled as the goldilocks zone – and could carry water in liquid form if the proper conditions are met.
HDB85512b orbits a star that is in the constellation Vela and is 36 light-years from the Earth. This is the second planet discovered in recent years that could support life – Gliese581d was the exoplanet that made international headlines in 2007.
“In the coming 10 to 20 years we should have the first list of potentially habitable planets in the sun's neighborhood,” said Mayor. “Making such a list is essential before future experiments can search for possible spectroscopic signatures of life in the exoplanet atmospheres.”
The research team’s findings were presented in Wyoming at a conference where 350 exoplanet experts were meeting.
This artist’s impression shows the planet orbiting the Sun-like star HD 85512 in the southern cons...
This artist’s impression shows the planet orbiting the Sun-like star HD 85512 in the southern constellation of Vela (The Sail)
European Southern Observatory
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