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

Arab League Delays Forming Joint Force

Delay grows out of one of original obstacles facing pan-Arab force, analysts say: 'They may agree on the principle, but they continue to argue about how to implement the project' More

Pakistan Demands Afghanistan Protect Its Kabul Mission, Staff

Officials in Islamabad say Afghan agents are harassing Pakistani embassy personnel, particularly those living outside of mission’s compound More

US Survey: Trump Lead Grows in Republican Presidential Contest

Quinnipiac University poll shows brash billionaire real estate mogul with 28 percent support among Republican voters More

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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs