Astronomy

Observatory Discovers more than 50 new Planets



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For centuries people have wondered about the existence of life on other planets. In the past several decades this curiosity has increased significantly, and as technology progresses and tools are created to assist scientists in exploring the celestial heavens. With new tools to aid in space exploration, hopes are increasing that society can learn more about what exists in other parts of the universe.

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has recently discovered more than 50 new planets using an exoplanet-hunting telescope. The discovery opens lots of possibilities to learn and see just what is out there in the vast openness we call space.  

These freshly discovered planets are circling stars beyond Earth's sun.

Space.com reported, "The exoplanet findings came from observations from the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher instrument, or HARPS. The HARPS spectrograph is part of ESO's 11.8-foot (3.6-meter) telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile."

“The harvest of discoveries from HARPS has exceeded all expectations and includes an exceptionally rich population of super-Earths and Neptune-type planets hosted by stars very similar to our sun," HARPS team leader Michel Mayor of the University of Geneva in Switzerland said in a statement. "And even better — the new results show that the pace of discovery is accelerating."  (Space.com)

Within this new finding are 16 'super-earths' which are planets deemed as rocky worlds and larger than Earth. One particular planet, dubbed HD 85512 b, has caught a keen interest from experts because its attributes align with a potential to be a habitable planet with the capability to support life forms.

HD 85512 b is estimated to be about 3.6 larger than our planet, resides 36 light-years away from Earth, and it appears that liquid water may exist on the planet if environmental conditions turn out to support this; the area new planet HD 85512 b resides in is considered to be a habitable zone. This aspect of the discovery excited scientists because of the potential to reveal other forms of life on these planets.

Before this can be determined, more needs to be learned about the planet's atmospheric conditions.

Lisa Kaltenegger, of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, spoke at a teleconference. The Washington Post reports, "the planet is at the warm edge of its star’s habitable zone, as if “standing next to a bonfire.” That means the planet would require a lot of cloud cover — which reflects starlight — to keep the surface cool enough to prevent any water from boiling."

Whether the terrain on HD 85512 b is rocky or gassy is not yet known as an image has not been captured as of this time. Once an image is obtained, scientists can learn a lot more.

Earlier this year scientists were elated to find the first planet believed to be in a 'goldilocks' zone, meaning the planet is 'just right' to possess the right conditions that would support life. This planet, Gliese 581 g, was located 20 light years away from Earth. Gliese 581g was discovered through use of the HIRES spectrometer on the W.M. Keck Observatory’s Keck I Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Some scientists were "100 percent sure" life exists on this planet, however there were also some that disputed whether or not Gliese 581 g exists.

What information HD 85512 b will yield remains to be seen, however as technology continues to progress and gain better abilities to detect what's floating out in the heavens, it is almost certain people across the globe will be waiting to learn with interest, especially if confirmation of life can be found.

To date 600 confirmed alien planets have been announced.

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