Astronomers Discover Super-Earths Orbiting Red Dwarf Star 11 Light Years Away

That suggests the planets are moving very quickly around their star, faster even than Mercury. Most exoplanets are discovered by monitoring stars for a small dip in luminance caused by planets passing in front of them. Although red dwarfs are fainter than our own Sun, they are known for their surface energy outbreaks occur, which can in a moment destroy the planet's atmosphere.

The global team - joined by Australian astronomers at the USQ, UNSW Sydney and Macquarie University- detected the system of planets orbiting the brightest red dwarf star in the night sky, Gliese 887. Based on decades of data, the team of researchers have discovered promising targets and was published in the journal Science. "If someone had to live around a red dwarf, they would want to choose a quieter star like GJ 887", writes Melvyn Davies in a related Perspective.

The astronomers observed the red dwarf using HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher) spectrograph the European Southern Observatory in Chile. Researchers also found that GJ887 has very few starspots, meaning it isn't as active as our Sun.

They found that the star appeared to be orbited by planets that have orbits that would give them years of just 9.3 and 21.8 days on Earth. The team estimates the surface temperature of the outer planet (Gliese 887c) to be around 70C.

UNIVERSITY of Southern Queensland researchers were part of an global team of astronomer who have detected a system of "super-Earth" planets orbiting a nearby red dwarf star. This third possible super-Earth is farther from the star than the other two, and takes 50 days to complete an orbit.

Gliese 887b and Gliese 887c are located near their star's habitable zone, an area where liquid water may potentially exist. The third potential planet, on the other hand, might be in the habitable zone and therefore could have more favorable conditions for potential life. The other interesting feature the team discovered is that the brightness of Gliese 887 is nearly constant. Their proximity offers a promising opportunity to study exoplanet atmospheres using the soon to be launched James Webb Space Telescope.

Lead author of the study, Dr Sandra Jeffers from the University of Göttingen explained, "These planets will provide the best possibilities for more detailed studies, including the search for life outside our Solar System".

'The exciting thing about these planets are that they orbit a star so close to the Sun, and so very bright, ' said UNSW-based planet hunter Prof Chris Tinney. However, the more distant location of the unconfirmed third planet may place it within GJ 887's so-called "habitable zone".


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