Photo: University of Hertfordshire
Researchers have discovered a super-Earth planet circling a star at a distance that would allow that planet to support life.The planet, which is at least seven times more massive than Earth, is actually one of six planets that orbits around a star called HD 40307, which is 42 light-years away from Earth (a light year is the distance that light travels in one year, which is about 6 trillion miles).
Scientists discovered three planets that closely orbit HD 40307 in 2008. A reanalysis of the data found three new planets, all much larger than Earth, that also orbit the host star.
The study [pdf], led by Mikko Tuomi from the University of Hertfordshire and Guillem Anglada-Escude from the University of Goettingen, was announced on Wednesday Nov. 8, and will be published in a future issue of the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.
Five of the planets are too close to the star to support water and therefore could not sustain life. But one planet, called HD 40307-g, orbits in the star’s “habitable zone.” Essentially, the distance from its star is just right to support life — it isn’t too hot that liquid water would boil away, and the exoplanet receives enough energy from its star that its climate and atmosphere could be similar to Earth.
“The star HD 40307, is a perfectly quiet old dwarf star, so there is no reason why such a planet could not sustain an Earth-like climate,” Guillem Anglada-Escude said in a statement.
Astronomers haven’t made any conclusions about whether the planet is rocky or gassy, partly because “no such mid-range planet exists in our own solar system,” writes the Los Angeles Times’ Amina Khan. But researchers do think the planet rotates on its own axis as it orbits around the star, creating a daytime and night-time effect that would simulate the environment on Earth.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.