Astronomers have found 60 new planets near our own – and many of them could hold life. A team of international scientists found a further 54 potential planets, meaning that in all the researchers might have discovered a full 114 planets and at least some of those might be like Earth, and able to support life, the researchers have said.
One of the exoplanets was a hot "super-Earth" that has a rocky surface and is found in the fourth nearest star system to our own. That planet, known as Gliese 411-b, could suggest that all the stars near our own sun have planets orbiting them – and as such that those too might be like Earth and have the conditions for supporting alien life.
Image issued by the University of Hertfordshire of hot super-Earth, Gliese 411b, one of the 60 new planets orbiting stars near the Earth's solar system which have been discovered by astronomers.
The results are based on almost 61,000 individual observations of 1,600 stars taken over a 20-year period by US astronomers using the Keck-I telescope in Hawaii. The observations were part of the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey, which was started in 1996 by astronomers Steve Vogt and Geoffrey Marcy from the University of California and Paul Butler, from the Carnegie Institute of Science, in Washington.
Dr Tuomi, who was the only European-based researcher working on the project and led analysis of the data, said: "It is fascinating to think that when we look at the nearest stars, all of them appear to have planets orbiting them. This is something astronomers were not convinced about, even as little as five years ago. These new planets also help us better understand the formation processes of planetary systems and provide interesting targets for future efforts to image the planets directly."
Image issued by the University of Hertfordshire of a visualisation of red and blue shifts of starlight caused by a planet's gravitational pull, as astronomers have discovered 60 new planets orbiting stars near the Earth's solar system.
Dr Butler said: "This paper and data release is one of my crowning achievements as an astronomer. It represents a good chunk of my life's work."
The group's paper has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.
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