Super-earths discovered orbiting nearby red dwarf

"Super Earth planets around nearby star are intriguing candidates for extraterrestrial life

Astronomers have discovered two super-Earths around the Gilese 887 star about 11 light-years away from our planet. Scientists claim that they can "potentially have life".

Red Dwarfs are the smallest and coolest variety of stars in the broad range of stars found in the universe and are of very low mass.

Planets classified as Super-Earths have masses higher than that of Earth. The team, led by Professor Carole Haswell and Dr. John Barnes of the Open University were the ones who made the discovery. The collected data shows that one of them needs 9 Earth days to complete a full orbit around Gliese 887, while the other needs 21 days. Red dwarfs, although smaller and dimmer than our sun, will often emit energetic flashes that can destroy a planet's atmosphere.

In a new study published today in the journal Science, the scientists focused on the red dwarf star GJ 887, also known as Gliese 887.

'This means that as the planet orbits its star, the same hemisphere always faces the star, ' the lead author explained.

We won't be able to learn much more about these planets without deploying new technology, so for the moment, we'll just have to wait and wonder.

'This is why we are now unable to say that the third signal is actually a planet'. The first pleasant discovery is that they are located in the "Goldilocks zone" of its star, a region where there might be liquid water.

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Interestingly, the researchers also found another signal that could have come from another planet in the same system.

"If Lacaille 9352 was as active as our Sun, it is likely that a strong stellar wind - outflowing material which can erode a planet's atmosphere - would simply sweep away the planets' atmospheres".

"The other interesting feature we discovered is that the brightness of Lacaille 9352 is nearly constant".

Are there other exoplanets in space similar to Earth that can support life? "This makes the system a good candidate for study with the to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)", reads the report.

'The exciting thing about these planets are that they orbit a star so close to the Sun, and so very bright, ' said UNSW-based planet hunter Prof Chris Tinney. The former has approximately 4.2 times the mass of the Earth, while the latter approximately 7.6 times the mass of our planet. 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.

Future telescope technology could reveal whether these planets have atmospheres and potentially even life.

"The star Gliese 887 is also very stable", said Prof Rob Wittenmyer, also from University of Southern Queensland.

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