Multi-planet system discovered in orbit by near-Earth star

Researchers led by the University of Göttingen have discovered a system of super-earth planets orbiting the star Gliese 887 near the sun.

The newly discovered celestial bodies are located near the habitable zone of the star and could be rock worlds, as the University of Göttingen announced. There can be liquid water in the habitable zone around a fixed star.

The scientists now reported on their discovery in the scientific journal “Science”. The researchers of the RedDots astronomer team reportedly observed the red dwarf star Gliese 887 with the “Harps” spectrograph of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile. They used a technique known as the “Doppler wobble” to measure the tiny movements of the star caused by the gravitational force of the planets orbiting it.

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The data therefore indicate two super-earths that orbit their star very quickly – even faster than the planet Mercury, our central star. Planets with a mass that is larger than that of the earth, but much smaller than that of the ice giants Uranus and Neptune in our solar system, are called super-earths.

Mother star half the size of our sun

Gliese 887, the mother star of the newly discovered exoplanets, is one of the closest stars to the sun, only eleven light years away. The red dwarf is much darker and about half the size of our sun. This means that the habitable zone is closer to Gliese 887 than the earth’s distance from the sun.

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In their research, the scientists also discovered two other interesting facts about Gliese 887: Firstly, in contrast to our sun, the red dwarf has very few star spots and is therefore apparently less active than our central star.

This could indicate that the planets around Gliese 887 retain their atmosphere or that they have a denser atmosphere than Earth – and could possibly harbor life. Because if Gliese 887 were as active as our sun, a strong star wind – escaping material that can erode the atmosphere of a planet – would probably simply sweep away the atmosphere of the newly discovered super earths.

Gliese 887 brightness almost constant

On the other hand, the brightness of Gliese 887 is almost constant according to the new findings. Therefore, according to the information, it could be relatively easy for the future James Webb Space telescope to recognize the atmospheres of the super earth system. The James Webb Space telescope is soon to succeed the Hubble space telescope.

“These planets will offer the best opportunities for more detailed studies, including finding life outside of our solar system,” said Sandra Jeffers from the University of Göttingen and lead author of the study.

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