Up to three planets – potentially rocky like Earth – have been spotted around a star located relatively close to our solar system – a planetary system offering astronomers intriguing possibilities in the search for signs of extraterrestrial life.
Planets orbit Gliese 887, a so-called red dwarf star 11 light years from Earth, just in our garden in cosmic terms, researchers said on Friday. A light year is the distance light travels in a year, 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion km).
Only 12 other stars are closer to our solar system.
Two planets have been definitively identified, one orbiting Gliese 887 every nine days and the other every 21 days. One of these is located just inside what is called the habitable zone, or Goldilocks zone, around the star – neither too hot nor too cold, perhaps able to maintain the liquid water on the surface and port life.
A third potential planet in orbit every 50 days is located in the habitable zone, but has yet to be confirmed.
“These are” super-Earth “planets, which means they are sometimes the mass of Earth and should have a solid core like Earth, unlike large gas giants such as Jupiter and Saturn,” said l astronomer Sandra Jeffers of the University of Göttingen in Germany, principal author of research published this week in the journal Science.
“The newly detected planets are the best possibilities of all known planets near the sun to see if they have atmospheres and to study these atmospheres in detail,” added Jeffers, to find out if their conditions are “suitable for life” .
The planetary system will be a key target for study using the next generation of NASA’s James Webb space telescope, slated for launch in 2021, said Jeffers.
Red dwarf stars are relatively small and cool. Gliese 887 is unusually inactive in terms of energy explosions and dark star spots, which means it could be hospitable to life on the planets in its orbit.
(With the exception of the title, this story was not edited by GalacticGaming staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)