News / Science & Technology

    Scientists Discover Potentially Habitable Alien Planet

    This artist's impression shows the planet orbiting the Sun-like star HD 85512 in the southern constellation of Vela (The Sail). This planet is about 3.6 times as massive as the Earth and lies at the edge of the habitable zone around the star, where liquid
    This artist's impression shows the planet orbiting the Sun-like star HD 85512 in the southern constellation of Vela (The Sail). This planet is about 3.6 times as massive as the Earth and lies at the edge of the habitable zone around the star, where liquid
    Jessica Berman

    European scientists say a small, rocky planet they've discovered orbiting a distant star is the smallest and most Earth-like planet ever found and might be capable of supporting life.  The alien world is one of a record bounty of 50 exoplanets (planets outside our solar system), including 16 so-called "super-Earths" reported recently by European planet-hunters.  

    The rocky exoplanet orbits a parent star called "HD85512," located 35 light years from earth. The alien world is known by the suffix "b" after the star's name, and it is one of a class of exoplanets known as "super-Earths", rocky worlds no more than 10 times the mass of Earth. The new-found planet is about three-and-half times more massive than Earth.

    Lisa Kaltenegger is with the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Massachusetts. “Up to about ten earth masses we actually think a planet can be rocky and, thus, could potentially be like our own planet," she said.

    HD85512-b was discovered by Kaltenegger and a team of astronomers leading Europe’s High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planetary Search, or HARPS, Project.  

    Using the European South Observatory’s La Silla telescope in Chile, the HARPS planet hunters found planet "b" orbiting its parent star, a sun slightly smaller and cooler than our own, at a distance of 150 million kilometers [93.2 million miles]. That is almost the same distance between the Earth and the Sun, putting the alien planet within what astronomers call the “habitable zone.”

    Astronomers believe a planet in the habitable zone is at just the right distance from its sun so that the planet's surface temperature is neither too hot nor too cold.  They say conditions on planet "b" might permit the existence of liquid water, which is essential for supporting life.

    The only way planetary scientists can determine whether life could exist on the planet is by reading in its light the chemical signatures of water and various gases associated with living organisms, such as oxygen, carbon dioxide, methane and ozone.

    But astronomers say that because planet "b" is so far away, and its potential atmosphere is just a thin layer on a rocky sphere, current telescopes are not powerful enough to read any of its chemical signatures.  For that, they say, they will need the European Extremely Large Telescope, or E-ELT.  Construction on the one-billion dollar instrument begins next year.  When it is completed, the 40-meter ground-based optical and near-infrared telescope will be the largest of its kind in the world, gathering 15 times more light than any existing telescope, including the Hubble Space Telescope.  

    E-ELT will contain an optical spectrograph that will analyze the contents of planet "b’s" and other exoplanets' atmosphere by dividing up incoming light, with each element in the planet's atmosphere reflecting a different color in the visible light spectrum.

    Kaltenegger says it’s an exciting time for exoplanetary scientists. “We are really going out there in a way with our telescopes to discover brand new worlds.  And we can do this within our own generation," she said.

    So far, a total of more than  600 extra-solar planets have been discovered in nearby solar systems, 150 of them by the HARPS team alone.  But most have been large gas giants orbiting stars well beyond the habitable zone.  In 2007, the HARPS project found the only other super-Earth, a large rocky planet nearly eight times the mass of Earth, orbiting on the outer edge of its star's habitable zone.

    The discovery of 50 new exo-planets, including HD85512-b, the smallest and most promising super-Earth yet, was presented Monday at a Wyoming conference on Extreme Solar Systems.

    You May Like

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Goodbye Ketchup, Hello Sriracha!

    How immigrants are triggering a great transformation in American cuisine

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora