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rhamphotheca:

Super Earth Found in Habitable Zone
by Govert Schilling
The Milky Way abounds with low-mass planets, including small, rocky  ones such as Earth. That’s the main conclusion of a team of European  astronomers, based on their latest haul of extrasolar planets. The new  discoveries—55 new planets, including 19 “super-Earths”—were presented  here today at the Extreme Solar Systems II conference by team leader  Michel Mayor of the University of Geneva in Switzerland. “We find that  40% of all Sun-like stars are accompanied by at least one planet smaller  than Saturn,” he says. The number of Earth-like planets is expected to  be even higher.
The new planets were found with HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity  Planet Searcher), an extremely sensitive instrument used to analyze  starlight, mounted on the 3.6-meter telescope of the European Southern  Observatory (ESO) at Cerro La Silla in northern Chile. HARPS detects the  minute periodic wobbles of stars, caused by the gravity of orbiting  planets. So far, HARPS has discovered 155 exoplanets, including  two-thirds of all planets less massive than Neptune.
Of the 19 newly found super-Earths (exoplanets between a few and 10  times the mass of Earth), the most intriguing is HD 85512b, which weighs  in at only 3.6 Earth masses. Its orbit lies in the habitable zone of  its parent star, which means temperatures are just right for liquid  water to exist on its surface, says Lisa Kaltenegger of the Max Planck  Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany. “We’re entering an  incredibly exciting period in history.”…
(read more: Science NOW)   (image: ESO)


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