Science

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Three Large Planets Discovered Orbiting Distant Star

June 17, 2008 02:48 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
European scientists are reporting the existence of a rare trio of “super-Earths” that are part of the latest in a batch of planetary discoveries.

30-Second Summary

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The planets orbit HD 40307, a sunlike star 42 light years away, and were discovered using an advanced telescope in La Silla, Chile, reports National Geographic. The smallest one is about four times the Earth’s mass.

Super-Earths are rocky planets up to 10 times the mass of Earth and are of particular interest to scientists because they believe that these planets can stay warm enough to support life 35 percent longer than our planet.

“We have entered the Epoch of the Super-Earths,” said David Charbonneau, an exoplanet expert at Harvard University, in reaction to the news.

The astronomers also announced Monday that about one-third of the sunlike stars in our galaxy support “modestly sized planets.” They presented a list of 45 newly discovered planets that range in mass from slightly bigger than Earth to about twice the mass of Neptune, including the three super-Earths. The planets were all reported to orbit their stars in 50 days or less, similar to the orbit of Mercury, which takes 88 days to go around the sun.

“We are convinced that there are plenty of planets everywhere,” said Didier Queloz of the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland.

Headline Links: Three super-Earths discovered

Background: ‘Methane Gas Detected on Distant Planet’; new Earthlike planet

Reference: Super-Earths, exoplanets

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