Extra-terrestrial life may exist just around the corner

This artist's impression shows HD40307g in the foreground (on the left hand side), with its host star HD40307 and two other planets in the system (on the right-hand side). The depicted atmosphere and continents are not detected or constrained by this work. Credit: J. Pinfield, for the RoPACS network at the University of Hertfordshire.A new planet, which may have an Earth-like environment, has just been found not too far away from our planet. An international team of astronomers, led by Dr. Mikko Tuomi, from the University of Hertfordshire, UK, and Dr. Guillem Anglada-Escude, from the University of Goettingen in Germany, found this new planet in a six-planet system orbiting around a nearby star, located only forty-four light years away from the Earth. The new planet, so-called super-Earth, is thought to be at least seven times the size of the Earth.

The six-planet system was originally thought to contain only three planets, all too close to their central star to be able to support liquid water. However, new research techniques that avoid fake signals caused by stellar activity, allowed researchers to identify three new super-Earth planets, one of which may be just perfect for life as we know it. The logic behind this claim is simple, and it is all about location. The potentially life-friendly planet is located in the so-called liquid water habitable zone (HZ), the area around a star where a planet can support liquid water on its surface.

"We pioneered new data analysis techniques including the use of the wavelength as a filter to reduce the influence of activity on the signal from this star. This significantly increased our sensitivity and enabled us to reveal three new super-Earth planets around the star known as HD 40307, making it into a six-planet system." said Dr.Tuomi in a press release.

The new planet is located farther away from the central Star than his other five "brothers" in this six-planet system, and it has an orbit around its host Star similar to that of our planet around the Sun, which means it receives as much energy from its star as we do from the Sun. The planet also is likely to be rotating on its own axis, which would create a daytime and night-time cycle, just as in our planet. All this further raises the scientist's hope that this is planet has an Earth-like environment and that it is habitable (and may be habitated).

"The star HD 40307, is a perfectly quiet old dwarf star, so there is no reason why such a planet could not sustain an Earth-like climate." said Dr. Angla-Escude in a press release.

Dr. Mikko Tuomi is a member of the European science network RoPACS (Rocky Planets Around Cool Stars), a research initiative that aims to find planets around cool stars. RoPACS is led David Pinfield, from the University of Hertfordshire, who commented: "Discoveries like this are really exciting, and such systems will be natural targets for the next generation of large telescopes, both on the ground and in space."

The original paper "Habitable-zone super-Earth candidate in a six-planet system around the K2.5V star HD 40307" is accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics and is available at http://star-www.herts.ac.uk/~hraj/hd40307/hd40307_final.pdf

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