Astronomers Find Two Super-Earths Orbiting Nearby Red Dwarf

Pablo Tucker
June 30, 2020

"We now know of thousands planets of Super-Earth-mass, or smaller".

Jeffers said astronomers have been looking for signals in this star for 20 years. This was followed in 2018 with the announcement of a super-Earth orbiting Barnard's star, the second closest star to the Sun.

Astronomers have discovered two super-Earth around the star Gilese 887, which is approximately 11 light years from our planet. It is much dimmer and about half the size of our Sun, which means that the habitable zone is closer to Gliese 887 than Earth's distance from the Sun.

The new planets were found using a high-precision, planet-finding instrument on the European Southern Observatory's 3.6-metre telescope at La Silla in Chile. Researchers also found that GJ887 has very few starspots, meaning it isn't as active as our Sun. The collected data shows that one of them needs 9 Earth days to complete a full orbit around Gliese 887, while the other needs 21 days. These two exoplanets (planets located outside of our solar system) have been named Gliese 887b and Gliese 887c, respectively.

Artist's impression of the multiplanetary system of newly discovered super-Earths orbiting nearby red dwarf Gliese 887.

Gliese 887b and Gliese 887c are located near their star's habitable zone, an area where liquid water can potentially exist.

"Planets orbiting nearby stars are key for searches with future telescopes for both exoplanetary atmospheres, and eventually evidence for life".

"The newly detected planets are the best possibilities of all the known planets in close proximity to the sun to see if they have atmospheres and to study these atmospheres in detail", Jeffers added, to learn whether their conditions are "amenable for life".

It will be relatively easy to detect the atmospheres of the super-Earth system due to the stable and relatively inactive host star. In the end, they generated a visualization analogous to a time-lapse movie, which revealed that the Gliese 887 was jiggling. But most of those planets orbit distant and faint stars.

According to the lead author of the study, Sandra Jeffers, "we've been looking for exoplanets orbiting Gliese 887 for almost 20 years, and while we saw hints of a planetary signal, it wasn't strong enough to convince ourselves that it was a planet". That's still too far to even begin to think about visiting with our current technology, but it's close enough that the next generation of high-powered telescopes - starting with the James Webb Space Telescope if it ever manages to get off the ground - could be capable of revealing more about the planets than scientists have ever known about any world outside of our solar neighborhood.

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