HARPS discovers 50 new exoplanetsSeptember 12, 2011
And there’s us thinking NASA’s Kepler telescope rules the roost over exoplanet hunting!
Today astronomers in La Silla, Chile announced a fertile haul of more than 50 new exoplanets – the latest results using ESO’s exoplanet hunter HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher). The haul includes 16 super-Earths, one of which orbits at the edge of it’s habitable zone around its star. By studying the properties of the planets found so far, the ESO team have discovered that around 40% of stars similar to our Sun have at least one planet lighter than Saturn.
Lead author Dr Michel Mayor, from the University of Geneva in Switzerland, said the haul included “an exceptionally rich population of super-Earths and Neptune-type planets hosted by stars very similar to our Sun”.
He added: “The new results show that the pace of discovery is accelerating.”
One of the recently announced newly discovered planets, HD 85512 b, is estimated to be only 3.6 times the mass of the Earth and is located at the edge of the 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,” says Lisa Kaltenegger (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg, Germany and Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Boston, USA), who is an expert on exoplanets habitability.
Astronomers are confident they are close to discovering other small and rocky habitable planets around stars similar to our Sun. Moving forward new instruments are planned to further the search and include a copy of HARPS to be installed on the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo in the Canary Islands, to survey stars in the northern sky, as well as a new and more powerful planet-finder, ESPRESSO, to be installed on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in 2016. Looking further into the future the planned CODEX instrument on the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) will push this technique to a higher level.
Wouldn’t it be great to wake up one morning to a fresh Sky-Watching post actually detailing a habitable planet! I guess by then we could just beam the information directly to your brain!