University of California at Santa Cruz- An international team of scientists has discovered a potentially habitable super-Earth orbiting a nearby star. With an orbital period of about 28 days and a minimum mass 4.5 times that of the Earth, the planet orbits within the star's "habitable zone," where temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist on the planet's surface. The researchers found evidence of at least one and possibly two or three additional planets orbiting the star, which is about 22 light years from Earth.
The host star is a member of a triple-star system and has a different makeup than our sun, with a much lower abundance of elements heavier than helium, such as iron, carbon, and silicon. This discovery indicates that potentially habitable planets can occur in a greater variety of environments than previously believed.
The researchers used public data from the European Southern Observatory and analyzed it with a novel data-analysis method. They also incorporated new measurements from the W. M. Keck Observatory's High Resolution Echelle Spectrograph and the new Carnegie Planet Finder Spectrograph at the Magellan II Telescope. Their planet-finding technique involved measuring the small wobbles in a star's motion caused by the gravitational tug of a planet.