New “Super Earth” Planet Discovered in Six-Planet System

    November 9, 2012

U.K. and German Astronomers announced this week that they have discovered a new “super Earth” planet that could, conceivably, have an Earth-like climate.

The planet exists in the habitable zone of a nearby star called HD 40307 and is part of a six-planet system. The system was previously believed to have only three planets, each too close to the star to support liquid water. By “avoiding fake signals caused by stellar activity,” the researchers found three new possible “super Earth” planets.

“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 Mikko Tuomi, lead author of the study and astronomer at the University of Hertfordshire. “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.”

Of the three candidates, the one the researchers have the most intrest in is the outermost one. It’s mass is over seven times that of Earth’s, and it orbits HD 40307 at a distance similar to Earth’s distance from the Sun. The astronomers state that this is where liquid water and a stable atmosphere are possible, raising the possibility that it could support life. They also pointed out that the planet is likely to rotate on its own axis, creating a more Earth-like environment.

“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,” said Guillem Angla-Escude, co-author of the study and astronomer at the University of Goettingen.

(Image courtesy the University of Hertfordshire)