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'Super-Earth' exoplanet spotted 42 light-years away

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'Super-Earth' exoplanet spotted 42 light-years away

Astronomers have spotted another candidate for a potentially habitable planet - and it is not too far away.

The star HD 40307 was known to host three planets, all of them too near to support liquid water.

But research to appear in Astronomy and Astrophysics has found three more - among them a "super-Earth" seven times our planet's mass, in the habitable zone where liquid water can exist.

Many more observations will be needed to confirm any other similarities.

But the find joins an ever-larger catalogue of more than 800 known exoplanets, and it seems only a matter of time before astronomers spot an "Earth 2.0" - a rocky planet with an atmosphere circling a Sun-like star in the habitable zone.

HD 40307, which lies 42 light-years away, is not particularly Sun-like - it is a smaller, cooler version of our star emitting orange light.

But it is subtle variations in this light that permitted researchers working with the Rocky Planets Around Cool Stars (Ropacs) network to find three more planets around it.

The team used the Harps instrument at the European Southern Observatory's La Silla facility in Chile.

Harps does not spot planets directly - it detects the slight changes in colour of a stars' light caused by planets' gentle gravitational tugs - the "redshift" and "blueshift" that small motions cause.

Most recently, the instrument was used to spot an exoplanet circling our second-nearest stellar neighbour, Alpha Centauri B.

It is by its nature a high-precision measurement, and it has only been with the team's improved analysis of the natural variations in HD 40307's light that the team could unpick just how many tugs were changing it.

"We pioneered new data analysis techniques including the use of the wavelength as a filter to reduce the influence of activity on the signal from this star," said University of Hertfordshire researcher and lead author of the paper Mikko Tuomi.

"This significantly increased our sensitivity and enabled us to reveal three new super-Earth planets around the star known as HD 40307, making it into a six-planet system."

The outermost of the three new finds, HD 40307g, orbits the star in about 200 Earth-days and has a mass at least seven times that of Earth, joining a growing class of exoplanets called super-Earths.

The team say that the next step is to used space-based telescopes to get a more direct look at the planet and assess its composition.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-20249753

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Sounds really cool!

Imagine travelling planets for a vacation B)

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I wonder why more people are not open to the idea that if there is other life-forms out there, they might not be carbon based.

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If this planet has seven times the mass of our earth then I certainly hope that there isn't life on it... Imagine how freakishly strong the aliens on it would be if they had to live with that G-force! They'd pound us to death!

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Sounds really cool!

Imagine travelling planets for a vacation B)

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Don't get me wrong its exciting to explore space and see whats out there but the whole point seems moot when its 42 light years away? For all we know that star could of exploded and totaled the planet 40 years ago and we wouldn't even know it for another 2 years. They need to push more for a way to travel long distances in space and so we can get to these places before they even half ass try claiming to of discovered something that may not even exist any more.

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If this planet has seven times the mass of our earth then I certainly hope that there isn't life on it... Imagine how freakishly strong the aliens on it would be if they had to live with that G-force! They'd pound us to death!

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Don't get me wrong its exciting to explore space and see whats out there but the whole point seems moot when its 42 light years away? For all we know that star could of exploded and totaled the planet 40 years ago and we wouldn't even know it for another 2 years. They need to push more for a way to travel long distances in space and so we can get to these places before they even half ass try claiming to of discovered something that may not even exist any more.

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I'm pretty sure we have ways of figuring out whether a star's going nova is imminent.

As far as travelling these immense distances, if one assumes that the speed of light cannot be exceeded, we are left with the idea put forth by several SF authors of generational space travel.

In a nutshell, you send several experts (of both genders) on a one-way trip into space. As their offspring grow, they are instructed on what they need to know to continue the journey. Theoretically, several generations later, the descendants of the original crew arive at the destination.

The problem with this idea is that if such a thing were to happen and the information were sent back to Earth at the speed of light, it would still be hundreds of years after the start of the mission. One would expect major advances in the field of astronomy by that time, likely making these findings redundant by the time they arrived back at Earth.

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well 42 light years isn't that bad, assuming we can travel near the speed of light, time would slow down enough so that it feels like a week for the people in the shuttle. However, 42 years would have passed for the world.

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well 42 light years isn't that bad, assuming we can travel near the speed of light, time would slow down enough so that it feels like a week for the people in the shuttle. However, 42 years would have passed for the world.

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Coleman -- you may be quoting from another theory but if Einstein is right, it would in fact be that much less time passed for those people travelling near light speed.

The best analogy I know comes from physicist Brian Green who explains...

If time is north-south and space is east-west, the more you aim west (or travel through space) the less you're aimed north (traveling through time). In other words if you travel at Einsteins theoretical max speed -- that of light and/or gravity -- you don't travel through time at all... while if you move very close to the speed of light, you travel very subtly through time.

This would have the effect of it feeling like a very short trip if you're part of it, while taking just the 'right' amount of time (in this case 42 years) if you were stuck on Earth.

(edited as I made a couple typos on my iphone)

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I really wish humanity would invest more in space travel. If they put as much money into it as oil or the next iPad, we'd be colonizing Mars by now.

I want a Halo/Mass Effect society, minus the galactic war.

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I really wish humanity would invest more in space travel. If they put as much money into it as oil or the next iPad, we'd be colonizing Mars by now.

I want a Halo/Mass Effect society, minus the galactic war.

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