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Three "Super-Earths" Planets Discovered

Updated on March 17, 2011

Earth-like Planets May be Very Common


After five years of monitoring, astronomers in Europe have discovered a batch of three "super-Earths" orbiting a nearby star, and two other solar systems with small planets as well. Their findings, presented at a conference in France, suggest that Earth-like planets may be very common. It's as if every single star harbor planets but the conclusive answer is not yet known but the astronomers are making huge progress towards it. The three super-Earths planets orbit a star slightly less massive than our Sun and this star is 42 light-years away towards the southern Doradus and Pictor constellations. One light-year is the distance light can travel in one year at a speed of 186,000 miles a second which is equivalent to 9.5 trillion kilometers. The three super-Earths planets are each bigger than the Earth. One is 4.2 times the mass of earth, the other is 6.7 times the mass of earth and the third planet is 9.4 times the mass of earth. They orbit their star at extremely rapid speeds. One of the planets is orbiting in just four days, compared with Earth's 365 days, the other planet is orbiting in just 10 days and the third is the slowest orbiting in 20 days.

European Southern Observatory

The HARPS spectrograph has led to the discoveries of many other extra-solar planets, including a 5 earth mass planet around a red dwarf.

La Silla Observatory hosts eighteen telescopes. Three are still operated by European Southern Observatory for use by the astronomical community. The European Southern Observatory (ESO) is the European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere.

ESO is an intergovernmental research organization for astronomy, composed and supported by thirteen countries from Europe namely Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and Austria.

The Organization was created in 1962, to provide state-of-the-art facilities and access to the Southern Sky to European astronomers. It is famous for building and operating some of the largest and most technologically advanced telescopes in the world.

Three "Super-Earths" Planets

High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher

To find the planets, the astronomers used the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), a telescope at La Silla observatory in Chile. So far, more than 270 exoplanets have been found - most are giants, resembling Jupiter or Saturn. The smaller planets closer to the size of Earth are far more difficult to spot. None of these planets can be imaged directly at such far distances but can be spotted indirectly using radio waves and spectrographic measurements. When a planet orbiting the star wobbles very slightly and this can be measured. Now that the astronomers have more precise instruments such as the HARPS spectrograph, they can now be able to discover smaller planets, with masses between 2 and 10 times the Earth's mass. Another planet 7.5 times the mass of Earth orbiting the star HD 181433 in 9.5 days was also found. This star also has a Jupiter-like planet that orbits every three years. Another solar system has a planet 22 times the mass of Earth, orbiting every four days, and a Saturn-like planet with a 3-year period.

The discovery of these planets is only the tip of the iceberg. The analysis of all the stars studied with HARPS shows that about one third of all solar-like stars have either super-Earth or Neptune-like planets with orbital periods shorter than 50 days.

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    • zzron profile image

      zzron 6 years ago from Houston, TX.

      This sounds like the episode of The Twilight Zone where the aliens from another planet who looked like Earthlings were going to another planet called Earth.

    • ngureco profile image

      ngureco 9 years ago

      Thank you all for your comments. You can be sure there will be more discoveries of these Earth-like Planets in future.

    • dutch84 profile image

      dutch84 9 years ago

      what's so "super" about these planets when they can't even support life.


    • Storytellersrus profile image

      Barbara 9 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      This is incredible! I had no idea. I am going to send your Hub link to my husband who is an amateur astonomer. Thanks so much for this fascinating Hub.

    • desert blondie profile image

      desert blondie 9 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen

      Fascinating information...always hypothetically knew there were other earths, solar systems around those stars out there, since they're just like our sun...but nice to read up on this with such succinct info.! Good hubbing!

    • profile image

      oberbreckling 9 years ago

      Hi ngureco this is all very interesting you know like you said about the other planets orbiting the sun in just days I wonder if the planet also ages faster too well alot of questions good hub ~cool~ cya