NEWS

Gliese 667C Planets: Three 'Super-Earths' Found

06/25/2013 11:18 EDT
ESO/L. Calçada

Astronomers taking another look at long-discovered triple-star system have made an astonishing discovery -- not one, but three planets that could host life, according to the European Southern Observatory.

Dubbed "super-Earths," the trio orbits Gliese 667C, the faintest of three stars in the Gliese 667 system.

Fresh observations, combined with data already collected using the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher, or HARPS, could add up to a major breakthrough in the hunt for extraterrestrial life.

“We knew that the star had three planets from previous studies, so we wanted to see whether there were any more,” one of the team leaders, Mikko Tuomi, said in a news release. “By adding some new observations and revisiting existing data we were able to confirm these three and confidently reveal several more. Finding three low-mass planets in the star’s habitable zone is very exciting!”

Scientists, who published their findings in Astronomy & Astrophysics, say as many as seven planets could be orbiting the star, with three of them in the zone where liquid water could exist.

No stranger to astronomer's eyes, Gliese 667C is located about 22 light years from Earth -- making it a relatively close neighbour.

According to Sci-News, the star's habitable zone is roughly the size of Mercury's orbit -- and the first low-mass star (it packs about a third as much heft as the Sun) found hosting several super-Earths.

"The number of potentially habitable planets in our galaxy is much greater if we can expect to find several of them around each low-mass star-instead of looking at ten stars to look for a single potentially habitable planet, we now know we can look at just one star and find several of them," astronomer Rory Barnes said in the news release.

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