Astronomers discover three 'super-Earths' in search for signs of extraterrestrial life

Rodiano Bonacci
Giugno 30, 2020

Planets classified as Super-Earths have masses higher than that of Earth. Now, researchers say they've spotted a nearby star that appears to host not one, not two, but up to three so-called "super Earths". Scientists claim that the habitable area is much closer to Gel 887 than the Earth's distance from the sun.

The star is part of the red-dwarf family, being located at around 11 light-years away from the Earth.

The discovery is described in a paper in the journal Science.

The most visible red dwarf star from Earth is a red-hot orb known as Gliese 887. Using the HARPS spectrograph at the European Southern Observatory in Chile, the team has confirmed Gliese 887b and Gliese 887c are in very close orbits around the star. The first is that the red dwarf has very few starspots, unlike our Sun.

They found that the star appeared to be orbited by planets that have orbits that would give them years of just 9.3 and 21.8 days on Earth. The newly discovered super-Earths could be rocky worlds, and lie close to the "habitable zone" of this red dwarf star - i.e. the zone where water could exist in liquid form on a planetary surface. That said, the Gliese 887c measurements suggest a surface temperature of 158 degrees Fahrenheit or 70 degrees Celsius. What is even more interesting is that these planets have a structure similar to that of our planet and are capable of hosting extraterrestrial life.

A team of German astronomers has discovered two super-Earths near the red dwarf star Gliese 887 and only 11 light-years away from Earth.

So, the newly discovered planets could possibly have retained their atmospheres, or have thicker atmospheres than the Earth indicating that they could potentially host life.

Another interesting discovery that the scientists made was that Gliese 887's brightness is almost constant. Gliese 887, as it was named, is the 13 closest star to our solar system that has ever been discovered.

This planetary system will be a key target for study using NASA's next-generation James Webb Space Telescope, due for a 2021 launch, Jeffers said.

The team also found detected a signal further out that could correspond to a possible third planet which may be even more suitable to life.

Lead author of the study, Dr Sandra Jeffers from the University of Göttingen explained, "These planets will provide the best possibilities for more detailed studies, including the search for life outside our Solar System". Planets tend to orbit these stars so closely, putting them in range of intense solar flares and radiation. One of them is based on how distant worlds block out some light from their stars when they pass in front of their stars - from the perspective of the observer.

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