Fifty New Exoplanets Discovered
Astronomers using ESO’s exoplanet hunter HARPS at La Silla Observatory in Chile have today announced a rich haul of more than 50 new exoplanets, including 16 super-Earths. This is the largest number of such planets ever announced at one time.
By studying the properties of all the HARPS planets found so far, the team have now improved the estimate of how likely it is that a star like the Sun is host to low-mass planets (as opposed to gaseous giants). They find that about 40% of such stars have at least one planet less massive than Saturn. The majority of exoplanets of Neptune mass or less appear to be in systems with multiple planets.
One of the recently announced newly discovered planets, HD 85512 b, is estimated to be only 3.6 times the mass of the Earth and is located at the edge of the habitable zone — a narrow zone around a star where liquid water, and perhaps even life, could potentially exist.
These results make astronomers confident that they are close to discovering other small rocky habitable planets around stars similar to our Sun. In the coming ten to twenty years we should have the first list of potentially habitable planets in the Sun’s neighbourhood.
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Image: Artist’s impression shows the planet orbiting the Sun-like star HD 85512 in the southern constellation of Vela.