Scientists discover two potentially habitable ‘super-Earths’ 11 light-years away

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on June 29, 2020

Scientists have discovered a new multi-planet system 11 light-years away from Earth that offers possibilities of harbouring life.

The planets orbit Gliese 887, a star quite similar to our Sun. It is a red dwarf star with a mass that is half the sun’s mass and is located 11 light-years from Earth as per reports.

The discovery has been made based on data by space telescopes such as the Kepler and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). The study as been published in the journal Science based on decades of data.

The system could have potentially two or up to three planets that provide intriguing possibilities of extraterrestrial life likely making it a viable target for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) due to launch in 2021.

“GJ 887 is an unusual host star, as it is relatively inactive, and the planetary system happens to be very close to our Sun. This makes the system a good candidate for study with the to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope (JWST),” reads the report.

Only 12 other such stars are closer to our solar system as per a Reuters report.

According to the report, one of the planets orbits Gliese 887 every nine days and the other every 21 days. The third planet takes 50 days to orbit the star. The potential of the third planet in terms of habitability is yet to be confirmed.

The remaining two planets are in the habitable zone, or Goldilocks zone which make them not too hot and not too cold giving it the potential ability to maintain liquid water on the surface and harbour life, the report said.

“They are ‘super-Earth’ planets, which means that they are a few times the mass of the Earth and are expected to have a solid core like the Earth, as opposed to the big gas giants such as Jupiter and Saturn,” said astronomer Sandra Jeffers of the University of Göttingen in Germany, lead author of the research published this week in the journal Science as quoted by Reuters.

“The newly detected planets are the best possibilities of all the known planets in close proximity to the sun to see if they have atmospheres and to study these atmospheres in detail,” he added.

Earlier this month, scientists had discovered another exoplanet-star pair which resembled our Earth-Sun system.

The star Kepler-160 and the planet KOI-456 were found to be quite similar to the Sun and the Earth, more than any other planets previously discovered which makes the planet more conducive to life, according to a team of scientists led by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Gottingen, Germany.

The pair is located 3,000 light-years away from Earth.

Published on June 29, 2020

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