By James Rogers
An international team of astronomers has found 60 new planets orbiting stars close to Earth’s solar system, including a rocky “super Earth.”
The experts also found evidence of an additional 54 planets, bringing the potential discovery of new worlds to 114.
One planet in particular, Gliese 411b, has been generating plenty of attention. Described as a “hot super Earth with a rocky surface,” Gliese 411b is located in the fourth-nearest star system to the Sun, making it the third-nearest planetary system to the Sun, according to the U.K.’s University of Hertfordshire, which participated in the research. Gliese 411b (also known as GJ 411b or Lalande 21185) orbits the star Gliese 411 (or GJ 411).
Despite the “super Earth” label, Dr. Mikko Tuomi from University of Hertfordshire’s Centre for Astrophysics told Fox News that Gliese 411b is too hot for life to exist on its surface.
Gliese 411 and Gliese 411b are located 8 light years from earth. A light year, which measures distance in space, equals 6 trillion miles.
By way of comparison, the recently-discovered Earth-like planet Proxima b, which orbits the red dwarf Proxima Centauri, is about 4 light years from Earth. A red dwarf is a relatively cool small star.
Tuomi, who was also involved in the discovery of Proxima b, told Fox News that the latest batch of planets marks a significant discovery. “Over the recent years it has been established as a scientific fact that there are more planets in the Universe than there are stars. This means that virtually every star has a planet, or several of them, orbiting it,” he explained, via email. “Our discovery of dozens of new nearby planets highlights this fact. But it also does more. We are now moving on from simply discovering these worlds.”
“In essence, we are now building an observational roadmap for future giant telescopes that can be used to image some or even most of these newly found worlds,” Tuomi added. “This is like mapping an archipelago so that we are familiar with it in the future when taking a closer look at what its islands actually look like.”
The 60 new planets are found orbiting stars that are mostly some 20 to 300 light years away, according to Tuomi.
The discoveries are based on observations taken over 20 years by U.S. astronomers using the Keck-I telescope in Hawaii as part of the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey. During the course of the research, scientists obtained almost 61,000 observations of 1,600 stars, which are now available to the public.
Sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation, the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey harnesses the talents of planet hunters from a number of organizations, including the University of California (UC) Santa Cruz and the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C.
The Carnegie Institution of Science also led a team that included MIT to release the data on the almost 61,000 observations of 1,600 stars.