Scientists See Promising Super Earth Planets Just 11 Light Years Away

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Based on their apparent masses, they're most like rocky planets somewhat larger than Earth, known as super-Earths.

Jeffers said astronomers have been looking for signals in this star for 20 years. As a result, the habitable zone for planets is much closer to it than the distance of Earth from the sun.

The multiplanetary system of the newly discovered super-Earths orbiting close to the red dwarf star Gliese 887 is seen in this artist's print. Mark Garlick / Flyer via REUTERS.

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USQ team help discover 'Super-Earths' orbiting nearby star

The research, which was published in Science, holds a lot of promise, but we don't yet possess the technology to view these Earth-alikes in greater detail. "If someone had to live around a red dwarf, they would want to choose a quieter star like GJ 887", writes Melvyn Davies in a related Perspective.

The team of astronomers monitored the red dwarf using the HARPS spectrograph at the European Southern Observatory in Chile, and then combined that with data from the Anglo-Australian Planet Search (using the 3.9m Anglo-Australian Telescope near Coonabarabran), the Planet finder Spectrograph (on Cerro Las Campanas in Chile) and the HIRES instrument on the Keck telescopes on Maunakea, Hawaii. Gliese 887 is exceptionally inactive in terms of energetic outbursts and dark starspots, meaning it could be hospitable to life on the planets in its orbit. The exoplanets are referred to as Gliese 887b and 887c, which orbit the star every 9.3 and 21.8 days respectively, making them orbit a lot faster than Mercury does around the Sun. Exoplanets (planets located outside our Solar system) are called Gliese Gliese 887b and 887c. Despite being so close to the star, scientists believe they are in the habitable zone of the cooler red dwarf - measurements of Gliese 887c suggest a surface temperature of 158 degrees Fahrenheit (70 degrees Celsius). A study led by the University of Göttingen reports the discovery of a system of super-Earth planets orbiting nearby of red dwarf Gliese 887 or GJ 887 and may possibly possess conditions that can harbor life.

If the star was as active as our Sun, it is likely that a strong stellar wind - outflowing material which can erode a planet's atmosphere - would simply sweep away the planets' atmospheres. "This means that the newly-discovered planets may retain their atmospheres, or have thicker atmospheres than the Earth, and potentially host life, even though Lacaille 9352 receives more light than the Earth". The other interesting feature the team discovered is that the brightness of Gliese 887 is nearly constant. This will make the system an important area of study for the Hubble Telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope. Planets tend to orbit these stars so closely, putting them in range of intense solar flares and radiation.


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