Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A habitable-zone exoplanet discovered in new crop of 50 finds

Star HD 85512; image via ESO and Digitized Sky Survey 2; Photo by: Davide De Martin
Let's get something straight--digging up exoplanets can be tedious work--but the pay-off can sometimes be incredible. Using extremely sensitive equipment, astronomers look for a "wobble" in a star's path that might be caused by a planetary body. When the technique was first used to find possible planetary systems, gas giants made up the early finds (Saturn and Jupiter-sized) because they were big and had a lot of mass to indicate planet's orbit.

As the technique has been refined, smaller planets often considered to be rocky like Earth--though there's no definitive proof yet of their composition--are now being picked up. Five such smaller planets have recently been detected--one of them lies in the Goldilocks Zone that would allow for liquid water and possibly life to exist. This exciting news comes from the BBC:
Of the new finds, a total of five planets have masses that are less than five times that of Earth.

"These planets will be among the best targets for future space telescopes to look for signs of life in the planet's atmosphere by looking for chemical signatures such as evidence of oxygen," said Francesco Pepe, from the Geneva Observatory, who contributed to the research.

The star HD 85512 lies some 35 light-years away and hosts a potentially habitable planet. One of the worlds, called HD 85512 b, is estimated to be only 3.6 times the mass of the Earth.

It is located at the edge of the habitable zone - the narrow strip around a star where liquid water can be present on the surface of a planet. Liquid water is considered essential for the existence of life.
That's the star pictured above. Get the full story or check out the Exoplanets link above for more resources.


  1. The sensitivity of the techniques amazes me. How much sharper can they get I wonder?

  2. Hopefully sharp enough to locate earth sized exoplanets reliably.