Monday, June 16, 2008

Astronomers find three new "super-Earths" orbiting nearby star

This is incredibly exciting news!

Astronomers find new batch of "super-Earths

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - European researchers said on Monday they discovered a batch of three "super-Earths" orbiting a nearby star, and two other solar systems with small planets as well.

They said their findings, presented at a conference in France, suggest that Earth-like planets may be very common.

"Does every single star harbor planets and, if yes, how many?" asked Michel Mayor of Switzerland's Geneva Observatory. "We may not yet know the answer but we are making huge progress towards it," Mayor said in a statement.

The trio of planets orbit a star slightly less massive than our Sun, 42 light-years away towards the southern Doradus and Pictor constellations. A light-year is the distance light can travel in one year at a speed of 186,000 miles a second, or about 6 trillion miles.

The planets are bigger than Earth -- one is 4.2 times the mass, one is 6.7 times and the third is 9.4 times.

They orbit their star at extremely rapid speeds -- one whizzing around in just four days, compared with Earth's 365 days, one taking 10 days and the slowest taking 20 days.

Mayor and colleagues used the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher or HARPS, a telescope at La Silla observatory in Chile, to find the planets.

More than 270 so-called exoplanets have been found. Most are giants, resembling Jupiter or Saturn. Smaller planets closer to the size of Earth are far more difficult to spot.


"Clearly these planets are only the tip of the iceberg," said Mayor.

"The analysis of all the stars studied with HARPS shows that about one third of all solar-like stars have either super-Earth or Neptune-like planets with orbital periods shorter than 50 days."



CyberKitten said...

I saw something recently that NASA estimate 3 *billion* Jupiter sized planets in our Galaxy.

That's quite a few chances for life to get started somewhere else - though presumably on one of their moons or other rocky planets in their particular systems.

But reports like this do indicate that planets are fairly common and must therefore increase the chances of life being out there which has developed independently.

Exciting stuff!

Stardust said...

cyberkitten, I wish I could live 500 years to see what advances have been made with space exploration. It's just awesome what they are finding.

Yes, indeed, this is exciting stuff!

Tommy said...

There's gotta be a way for Jason to turn this into an anti-Barack Obama post.

Stardust said...

Tommy, I am sure he will find a way. This reminds me of that Kevin Bacon game.

Stardust said...

tommy, let me try to beat him to the punch...found this at a conservative website...

"As the legend goes, when the Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez landed in what is now Mexico in 1519, he ordered the boats that brought him and his men there to be burned. Obama seems to have something similar planned for NASA."

I know I just tossed some flame bait out there.

Jason H. Bowden said...


Tommy said...

Some day, an extraterrestrial will be president of the United States.

Stardust said...

Here is a good point made by a commenter at Bad Astronomy -

"I do . . . have an increasing beef with these “artist impressions”. Can the geometry of light and dark be any wronger?

And blue seas?! White clouds? At that distance from the star? These planets are scorching hot, way hotter than Venus or Mercury. Wereas they are probably massive enough to hold on to atmospheres, I’m guessing they would be severely depleted of hydrogen and other lighter elements. Plus they are probably tidally locked, which in itself would create atmospheric conditions completely different from any Earth equivalence.

If there’s anything certain regarding this illustration is that the actual system won’t look anything like it.

Still, three massive planets so close from the star and each other would be quite a sight in each other’s skies.

Bottom line is: please, do try not to mislead people with illustrations such as this one."

(Artist renditions are usually imaginative and often not very accurate)