Published: Fri, February 17, 2017
Science | By Guadalupe Butler

Jackpot! Astronomers Discover Over a Hundred Nearby Planets

Jackpot! Astronomers Discover Over a Hundred Nearby Planets

One of these planets includes a rocky "Super Earth".

Astronomers have found 60 new planets, including a super-Earth, orbiting stars near the solar system. One planet in particular known as Gliese 411b has been described as a "hot super Earth with a rocky surface". However, the inferred planet, GJ 411b, continues a trend that has been seen in the overall population of detected exoplanets: the smallest planets are found around the smallest stars.

The virtual mountain of data was gathered as part of a two-decade radial velocity planet-hunting programme that uses a spectrometer called HIRES, mounted on the 10-metre Keck-I telescope of the W M Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

Sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation, the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey harnesses the talents of planet hunters from a number of organizations, including the University of California (UC) Santa Cruz and the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. According to Mikko Tuomi, with the University of Hertfordshire's Centre for Astrophysics, researchers are increasingly finding that nearby stars "appear to have planets orbiting them".

"This is something astronomers were not convinced about, even as little as five years ago", he said in a statement.

Butler added: "This paper and data release is one of my crowning achievements as an astronomer". It represents a good chunk of my life's work'.

Researchers believe some of the planets they have discovered could support life, The Independent said.

The group's results were based on measuring small periodic changes in the target stars' colours, indirectly revealing the existences of the planets.

Team members call the project an effort to "democratize the search for planets", as Yale's Greg Laughlin put it. Gliese 411 and its orbiting planets are just eight light years from Earth, putting them right in our celestial backyard, but despite is relative proximity to our own planet, the star is still about six trillion miles away, so it's unlikely we'll be stopping by any time soon.

These new discoveries have happened thanks to the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey, an initiative to make years of observations publicly available.

Dr. Tuomi appreciated the efforts of Paul Butler and Steve Vogt who collected several years'data and developed instruments to study it.

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