This Is How Astronomers Will Find New Planets in the Solar System

Katie Ramirez
June 27, 2020

The RedDots team of astronomers monitored the red dwarf, using the HARPS spectrograph at the European Southern Observatory in Chile.

While the Gilese 887 star is 11 light-years away, it is still one of the closest to our Solar System.

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. Super Land called planet whose mass is higher than Earth, but significantly lower than that of Neptune and Uranus. Possibly the most exciting thing about these two new super-Earths is they lie close to the red dwarf's habitable zone, where water can exist in liquid form, and could be rocky worlds just like Earth and Mars.

Using a technique known as "Doppler wobble", they measured the tiny back and forth motion of Gliese 887 due to the gravitational pull of its planets.

Based on their findings, the astronomers claim that the two exoplanets have short orbits of just 9.3 and 21.8 days. Now, researchers say they've spotted a nearby star that appears to host not one, not two, but up to three so-called "super Earths".

It is much dimmer than, and about half the size of, our Sun.

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This study published Thursday in the journal Science. Scientists also estimate the temperature of Gliese 887c to be around 70 degree Celsius.

RedDots: in 2016, the astronomy team found the closest exoplanet to the Sun, which is roughly Earth-mass and orbits Proxima Centauri. GG 887 is less active than other red dwarfs, so the newly discovered worlds may be spared from harmful solar flares common to that type of star.

However, follow-up studies need to confirm there is, in fact, a third promising planet orbiting the star. According to the astronomers, the number of starspots on the red dwarf is lesser in comparison to our Sun.

"We report the discovery, using radial velocity measurements, of a compact multiplanet system of super-Earth exoplanets orbiting the nearby red dwarf star GJ 887", the authors wrote.

The unusually quiet nature of Gliese 887 suggests that if it does possess a planet within its habitable zone, that world might have a greater chance at life than other red dwarf planets, which often erupt with risky flares. Scientists note that these new planets can have a thicker atmosphere than Earth, and may even host life. Most exoplanets are discovered by monitoring stars for a small dip in luminance caused by planets passing in front of them. The other interesting feature the team discovered is that the brightness of Gliese 887 is nearly constant. This will make the system an important area of study for the Hubble Telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope.

What's next: Scientists are on the verge of having the tools they need to study worlds orbiting distant stars more thoroughly than they have in the past. Still, "we've been looking for exoplanets orbiting Gliese 887 for almost 20 years, and while we saw hints of a planetary signal, it wasn't strong enough to convince ourselves that it was a planet", study lead author Sandra Jeffers, an astrophysicist at the University of Göttingen in Germany, told Space.com.

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