Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Batch of Fifty New Alien Worlds Discovered

Disovery News - Astronomers have announced the discovery of 50 (yes, five-zero) exoplanets, the largest group of alien worlds announced at one time. Sixteen of these worlds are “super-Earths” — exoplanets that possess masses larger than Earth, yet much lower than the gas giants.

This time, however, the announcement doesn’t come from NASA’s orbital exoplanet hunter, the Kepler Space Telescope, it comes from the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (or HARPS for short).

As with any exoplanet announcement comes the question: are any of these newly discovered worlds suitable for life? And, in this case, the answer is: maybe.

SEE ALSO: Kepler Scientist: ‘Galaxy is Rich in Earth-Like Planets’

Enter HD 85512b, an exoplanet with a mass 3.6 times that of the Earth. This “super-Earth” is exciting in that not only can it be considered a jumbo-sized Earth, it also orbits its sun-like star (HD 85512) on the inner rim of the star’s habitable zone.

“This is the lowest-mass confirmed planet discovered by the radial velocity method that potentially lies in the habitable zone of its star, and the second low-mass planet discovered by HARPS inside the habitable zone,” said Lisa Kaltenegger, of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg, Germany and Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Boston, who is an expert on the habitability of exoplanets.

SEE ALSO: Milky Way Stuffed with 50 Billion Alien Worlds

HARPS contrasts greatly from the methods employed by Kepler to detect exoplanets. Located at La Silla Observatory in Chile, HARPS is a spectrometer that analyzes the light from stars.