Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Three planets in habitable zone of nearby star

Artist's impression of the Gliese 667C system
Credit: ESO/ M. Kornmesser
Could there be life on a planet (or maybe even three!) in our own Sun’s neighbourhood?

Well, according to an international team of astronomers which includes Dr Mikko Tuomi and Professor Hugh Jones from the University of Hertfordshire’s Centre for Astrophysics Research, a nearby star has a record-breaking three super-Earths lying in its habitable zone where liquid water could exist!

New observations of the star, known as Gliese 667C, have been combined with existing data to reveal a system with at least six planets. And at 22 light-years away, this is quite close to us — within our Sun’s own neighbourhood!!

Three of these planets are confirmed to be super-Earths — planets more massive than Earth, but less massive than planets like Uranus or Neptune and are likely to be rocky masses rather than just made of gas. These three planets are within their star’s habitable or ‘Goldilocks’ zone' - a thin shell around a star in which water may be present in liquid form if conditions are right and making them possible candidates to support life.

This is the first time that three such planets have been spotted orbiting in this zone in the same system - completely filling up the habitable zone of Gliese 667C, as there are no more stable orbits in which a planet could exist at the right distance to it.

This record-breaking discovery shows that cooler and dimmer stars such as Gliese 667C can host several potentially habitable planets – so there may be more opportunity for life on another planet in our Universe than we originally thought!

This research is published in a paper entitled “A dynamically-packed planetary system around GJ 667C with three super-Earths in its habitable zone”, in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

To read more click here

Video: Artist's impression of the orbits of the planets in the Gliese 667C system

Video: Artist's impression of the Gliese 667C system

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