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New Earth-like planet discovered, dubbed ‘super-Earth’

A super-Earth like planet has been discovered orbiting a red dwarf star. This adds to the body of exoplanet research.

Astronomers have discovered a planet orbiting a red dwarf star which has the potential to possess ‘Earth-like’ conditions. This is a super-Earth, indicating an extrasolar planet with a mass higher than our Earth’s.

The quest for life out in the further reaches of the galaxy continues, with the hope of demonstrating that life can exist elsewhere (as the theories of chemistry and biology predict). While an equivalent civilization to our own may not exit, life in some form may well do. For this to happen, a planet must contain carbon and water, and have a breathable atmosphere.

The so-termed super-Earth is orbiting a star named GJ 740, which is a red dwarf star (a bright M1-type star) situated some 36 light years from Earth (in the constellation of Serpens). The planet has been detected by scientists based at Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, located in the Canary Islands. The hunt for suitable planets was undertaken as part of the HADES (HArps-n red Dwarf Exoplanet Survey) program.

What is of interest to scientists are the conditions: The closer habitable zone of the plant, which is a consequence of its lower luminosity, makes the low-mass star an ideal target  for the search of temperate Earth-like planets.

To date, a total of 116 exoplanets has been discovered around this class of stars via a technique called the radial velocity method. This is based on small variations in the velocity of a star due to the gravitational attraction of a planet in orbit around it.

In the case of GJ 740, such a planet exists. The planet, under the provisional name of Gliese 740b, is an exoplanet, which designates an extrasolar planet (one outside the Solar System). The reference to ‘super-Earth’ is because Gliese 740b is relatively bigger than our planet: The super-Earth has a minimum mass of 3 Earth masses and a radius of 1.43 Earth radii.

Confirmation of the discovery was obtained from the CARMENES spectrograph on the 3.5m telescope at the Calar Alto Observatory (Almería) together with data captured by the HARPS, on the 3.6m telescope at the La Silla Observatory (Chile).

There may also be a second planet with an orbital period of 9 years, although further astronomical data will be required in order to prove this secondary planetary object one way or the other.

The first super-Earth was detected in 2008, or rather three super-Earths were detected at the same time. Three super-Earths were traced around the star HD 40307, a star that is only slightly less massive than our Sun (an orange (K-type) main-sequence star located approximately 42 light-years away in the constellation of Pictor).

The findings have been reported to the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, with the research paper titled “A super-Earth on a close-in orbit around the M1V star GJ 740.”

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