Could new super-Earth support life?

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An artist's conception of a super-Earth.Photo: AP/NASA
An artist's conception of a super-Earth.Photo: AP/NASA

A new super-Earth planet that may have an Earth-like climate and be just right to support life has been discovered around a nearby star.

The new planet exists in the habitable zone of the nearby star (HD 40307) and is part of a six-planet system. The system was previously thought to contain three planets in orbits too close to the star to support liquid water.

By avoiding fake signals caused by stellar activity, the researchers have identified three new super-Earth planet candidates also in orbit. Of the new planets, the one of greatest interest is the one with the outermost orbit from the star – with a mass at least seven times of the Earth.

Its orbit around the host star is at a similar distance to Earth’s orbit around our Sun, so it receives a similar amount of energy from the star as the Earth receives from the Sun – increasing the probability of it being habitable.

This is where the presence of liquid water and stable atmosphere to support life is possible and, more importantly, the planet is likely to be rotating on its own axis as it orbits around the star. The rotation would create a daytime and night-time effect on the planet which would be better at creating an Earth-like environment.

An team of astronomers led by Mikko Tuomi, University of Hertfordshire, and Guillem Anglada-Escude, University of Goettingen, made the discovery.

“The longer orbit of the new planet means that its climate and atmosphere may be just right to support life. Just as Goldilocks liked her porridge to be neither too hot nor too cold but just right, this planet or indeed any of its moons lie in an orbit comparable to Earth, increasing the probability of it being habitable,” Hugh Jones from University of Hertfordshire, added.

Earlier this year, the Kepler spacecraft found a planet with a similar orbit. However, Kepler 22d is located 600 light years from Earth, whereas this new super-Earth planet known as HD 40307g is much closer being located at 42 light years from Earth.PTI

A super-Earth is a planet outside the Solar system with a mass higher than Earth’s but less than the mass of Uranus and Neptune.



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