Astronomers discover 'super-earth' among more than 100 new planets

Mandy DayFeb 17 , 2017

This is in addition to astronomers who have found 60 planets near Earth - with the possibility of many being able to hold life.

In total 114 new planets have been discovered, 60 of which are said to be situated in what is called our immediate solar neighbourhood.

Gliese 411b is a hot super-Earth with a rocky surface located in the fourth nearest star system to the sun, making it the third nearest planetary system to the sun.

Researchers say that the planet demonstrates that "virtually all" the nearest stars to the sun have planets orbiting them, and some of these 'could be like Earth'.

But astronomers did not believe it 5 years ago, but now they believe it.

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"These new planets also help us better understand the formation processes of planetary systems and provide interesting targets for future efforts to image the planets directly".

The virtual mountain of data was gathered as part of a two-decade radial velocity planet-hunting programme that uses a spectrometer called HIRES, mounted on the 10-metre Keck-I telescope of the W M Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. HIRES was part of a two-decade long radical velocity-planet hunting program and it has compiled nearly 61,000 individual measurements made of more than 1,600 stars. You can find the full database here.

The discovery was led by astronomers' Steve Vogt, Geoffrey Marcy and Paul Butler.

Dr Butler said: 'This paper and data release is one of my crowning achievements as an Astronomer.

The method, which is one of the most successful technique for finding and confirming planets, takes advantage of the fact that planets are not just influenced by the gravity of the star that it orbits but the gravity of the planet itself also affects the star. It represents a good chunk of my life's work'.

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"We were very conservative in this paper about what counts as an exoplanet candidate and what does not, and even with our stringent criteria, we found over 100 new likely planet candidates", Tuomi said.

The hunt for another Earth is hotting up, following the discovery of Promixa b, an exo-planet in the "habitable zone" past year.

Team members call the project an effort to "democratize the search for planets", as Yale's Greg Laughlin put it.

While the lines of the star move very slightly in response to orbiting bodies like planets, the iodine lines do not move, providing a precise reference point.

The 60 new planets are found orbiting stars that are mostly some 20 to 300 light years away, according to Tuomi.

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