Astronomers discover three 'super-Earths' in search for signs of extraterrestrial life

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They concluded that these were unmistakable signs of two nearby planets, which could weigh at least four and seven times as much as the Earth, respectively.

Dr. Jeffers and co-authors also detected an unconfirmed signal with a period of 50 days, which could correspond to a third super-Earth, Lacaille 9352d (Gliese 887d), in a more temperate orbit.

Despite being so close to the star, scientists believe they are in the habitable zone of the cooler red dwarf.

Combining their data with archival measurements of the star, spanning almost 20 years, Jeffers et al. detected the presence of at least two super-Earth sized planets, tightly circling the nearby red dwarf with orbital periods of 9.3 and 21.8 days.

The discovery is described in a paper in the journal Science.

While Gliese 887 is one of the closest stars to the Sun, it is much dimmer and about half the size of our Sun. Again in 2018, they went back to Gliese 887 and observed it every day for three months with the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) instrument in Chile. The first is that the red dwarf has very few starspots, unlike our Sun. It is estimated that the temperature of 887c is around 70 C.

"Planets orbiting nearby stars are key for searches with future telescopes for both exoplanetary atmospheres, and eventually evidence for life".

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Astronomers discover three 'super-Earths' in search for signs of extraterrestrial life

The star Kepler-160 and the planet KOI-456 were found to be quite similar to the Sun and the Earth, more than any other planets previously discovered which makes the planet more conducive to life, according to a team of scientists led by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Gottingen, Germany.

During the study of the Gliese 887, the scientists uncovered two other fascinating facts about the star.

If the star 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.

"So given the star is relatively inactive the newly discovered planets could be expected to retain their atmospheres". Locate the infamous third planet and try to detect its atmosphere using the James Webb Space Telescope which will be launched next year.

Dr Sandra Jeffers, from the University of Göttingen and lead author of the study, said the planets provide the best possibilities for the study of signs of alien life. 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.

'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.

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