Found: The Earthiest New Planet Yet

A world like ours, in a solar system like ours, in just the right spot for life

  • Share
  • Read Later
J. Pinfield for the RoPACS network at the University of Hertfordshire

An artist's rendering of the new world with its parent star and two of its sister planets.

They didn’t use a space telescope, or a huge ground-based scope like the Keck or the Gemini, or even the sort of backyard telescope some planet hunters rely on to gather evidence of alien worlds. Instead, a team of European and American astronomers started with a clever new analytical technique, applied it to a set of existing observations archived by the European Southern Observatory and made what could be the biggest planet discovery since — well, since the announcement of a world in the nearby Alpha Centauri star system three weeks ago.

The fact that big planetary discoveries are occurring so close together is a measure of how fast the exoplanet field has exploded in recent years. And the announcement a few weeks back was an exciting one indeed. That new planet orbits a star close to Earth, and  it’s Earthlike in size as well. Its surface is probably molten lava — which pretty much rules it out as a candidate for life — and that’s where the even more recently discovered planet wins out. Known as HD 40307g, it circles its home star once every 320 days or so, at a distance that puts it right in the star’s Goldilocks zone, where temperatures are not too cold or too hot but just right for water-based life like ours — if it happens to be there.

(MORE: How Planets Paint Rings Around Stars)

This isn’t the first or even the second world discovered orbiting this particular parent star. European astronomers had already found three, called HD 40307b, c and d, based on the wobbles their gravity imposed on the star itself. Disentangling those three overlapping signals was hard enough, but Mikko Tuomi of England’s University of Hertfordshire, along with his team, found a way to erase the flickering of the star itself (caused by sunspots, flares and such) from the stored observations. As a result, the fainter signals of three more planets became detectable — e, f and g — for a total of six. HD 40307g is the farthest out from the star and the only habitable world known in the system.

(PhotosWindow on Infinity: Pictures from Space)

The newly identified planet is not exactly a mirror Earth. It’s at least seven times as massive as our home planet, which qualifies it as a “Super Earth,” with much stronger gravity than what we’re used to. That doesn’t rule out the possible presence of life, say the experts, and HD 40307g has another point in its favor. “It might rotate,” says Hugh Jones of University of Hertfordshire, a co-author of a paper describing the new world slated for publication in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Rotation seems like a natural feature of all planets, but those that lie too close to their stars become tidally locked, showing the same face to the star at all times (as the Moon does with Earth). Even if it were in the habitable zone, a locked planet could be hot on one side and frigid on the other — but HD 40307g is probably evenly toasty all around.

(MORE: Cosmic Leaf Blower and the Death of Two Galaxies)

Yet another plus is the fact that the new world lies only 44 light years away from Earthly telescopes. That’s pretty far compared with the Alpha Centauri planet, just 4 light-years away, but practically next door compared with the distant Super Earths the Kepler space telescope has found. Along with another planet found by members of this same team early in 2012, HD 40307g could be the beginning of a growing collection of habitable planets that could be seen directly by a coming generation of telescopes.

The only question that remains is a pretty fundamental one: whether the new world is really there at all. Jones acknowledges that the signals from the other five planets are more robust. “We’ve tested this new technique on planets we already knew existed,” he says, “but this is the first time we’ve used it to make a detection.”

Nevertheless, he’s reasonably confident that HD 40307g does exist and, he says, “we’re using the new technique on lots of other stars even as we speak. We’re seeing lots of exciting possibilities.”

MORE: Surprise! Astronomers Spot Life on Earth — and Why That’s News

23 comments
Chadam
Chadam

Okay maybe I missed something (or assumed too much here) but if the planet is strictly 7 times as massive Earth with absolutely no additional mass then yes I could understand said planet having a greater gravitational pull. However I am assuming that said planet is bigger than Earth (otherwise they would not have used the term “Super Earth” because extra mass does not make it super by any means however a bigger planet might). Should this planet be bigger then based on (g = GM/r^2) and the fact that "r" (the radius of the planet here)  is squared then the idea of the gravitational pull on the planet being some unbearable amount greater than Earth's strikes me as hard to believe.

paulauto70
paulauto70

BUCK RODGERS in the 1940,S travelled into space aboard his space ship that,s 76 years ago, it seems that we have a slow way of doing things,      it,s all fine and we have to do it to know but analizeing planets many light years away and deaming them habitable and takeing many years for some kind of space kraft to get there  varify that our scientific observations were wrong, then what do we do, ???? it much the same as looking through two brown beer bottles as space scopes,   mr einstien said each one of those planets, suns and thier moons are unique to them selves , as they are all made of different materials, mass, size , size of moons, number of moons number of rotations per day, temperatures seasons , tetonic plates, cold rock planet, molten planet, to close to thier suns and on and on makes it seem that we are a long way off getting to one humans as we are will be able to live a normal life on,   with the esculation of world wars and violence  slows our hopes down and will possibley destroy our selves before we could even get close

nottheman
nottheman

I would be more interested in the potential for life on its moons.

eabarth
eabarth

How about the fact that the team who discovered this planet have said that there's only about a 50/50 shot that it has a solid surface? We could be freaking out over a small Neptune. Why are a lot of major news outlets not sharing that important piece of information? I think your journalism is turning yellow, TIME.

BabuG.Ranganathan
BabuG.Ranganathan

HAVING THE RIGHT CONDITIONS TO SUSTAIN LIFE doesn't mean that lifecan originate by chance or from non-living matter. Please read mypopular Internet articles listed below:

SCIENCE AND THE ORIGIN OF LIFE, NATURAL LIMITS OF EVOLUTION, HOWFORENSIC SCIENCE REFUTES ATHEISM, WAR AMONG EVOLUTIONISTS (2nd Edition), DOES GOD PARTICLE EXPLAIN UNIVERSE'S ORIGIN? NO HALF-EVOLVED DINOSAURS

Visit my newest Internet site: THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION

Sincerely,

Babu G. Ranganathan*

(B.A. theology/biology)

* I have had the privilege of being recognized in the 24th edition ofMarquis "Who's Who In The East" for my writings on religion andscience, and I have given successful lectures (with question and answertime afterwards) defending creation from science before evolutionistscience faculty and students at various colleges and universities.

aaronsancheznw7
aaronsancheznw7

THis is Aarons friend, I think this is hell dope, but can we actually live their cuz, its cool foou but we'z like needa kno whow far it is n how we gunna ge transported

aaronsancheznw7
aaronsancheznw7

I THINK THAT THE GUYS DID A GREAT JOB IN DISCOVERING THIS NEW PLANET BUT THEN NEDD TO BE 100% SHURE WE CAN BRING HUMANITY TO THAT PLACE  PLUSE WE NEED TO GROW CROPS AND OTHER THINGS AND IF HUMANS CAN LIVE THERE WE GOT A LONG RUN INTO MAKING EVERYTHING GETS STARTED GOES GOOD AND NOTHING GOES WRONG

kateys100
kateys100

"just right for water-based life"... from a distance they would probably surmise that the Cuyahoga River was just right for life too but there hasn't been anything alive in it for 70 years.

John
John

The only reason why they would report a planet as the earthiest yet, is that it has a 320 day year. As others point out, the gravity which would probably be intolerable for humans without a mechanized exoskeleton for a space suit.  Even then, there might be effects on a human which would be intolerable.

Tell.Me.About.The.Gravity!
Tell.Me.About.The.Gravity!

And what is the gravity on the surface of this planet and how could/would any lifeform from Earth live, develop and reproduce on a planet with the gravity on the surface of this planet?

I find all of these Earth 2.0 articles HIGHLY misleading as they never address the gravity on the surface issue. I do not think Earth life could truly inhabit another planet whose gravity on the surface was not within 10% or maybe 20% that of Earth. I suspect a planet like this one may have a surface gravity of something like 4 times or more that of Earth. This mean NOT inhabitable!!! Regardless of liquid water, atmospheric make-up and surface temperatures.

pendragon05
pendragon05

We'll need it when we outbreed this planet.

GodshuffledhisfeetAnovel
GodshuffledhisfeetAnovel

Hubble-Keplar, Tesla-Space X-and Elon Musk to save mankind!! Fun and fast paced new science fiction novel. Read as art imitates life!!!!A must read--God Shuffled His Feet—A Novel by Mark EllenbogenAvailable on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads.Exciting fun novel with a humorous apocalyptic twist. Elon Musk-Tesla and Space X help save mankind from total destruction! Meet astronomers Ravi Najir and Sam Klein, two PHD doctoral students from Humboldt, California, about to have their world turned upside down----literally. The duo wins a $250,000 grant and a coveted year long viewing slot using the Hubble Space Telescope to observe the heavens. Little do they know that what they are about discover, will rock the Earth, their lives, and the heavens all at once!High in the far reaches of space, up where the Crab Nebula is supposed to be, a new solar system has formed and Klein and Najir are about to discover it. Within minutes of accessing their chosen Hubble coordinates, two new celestial bodies are discovered where none existed before!!Dubbing their discovery the Master Kush Formation; the two unlikely heroes are quickly rocketed to fame and glory over night. A new sun and a fully habitable blue-green planet have taken the place of the Crab Nebula. God plans to wipe the Earth clean and start over!!!The clock is ticking and time is running out. Only a few will make it. The boys enlist the help of Elon Musk, Tesla and Space X to manage the technology and transport the saved. Do you have what it takes? Open up God Shuffled His Feet for the ride of your life!! Peppered with interesting trivia, thoughtful humor and some suspenseful science fiction God Shuffled His Feet will entertain while provoking some thought in the process.

romano70
romano70

@BabuG.Ranganathan Humans are not that special. We are product of random situations, surely present in millions other planets. We just don't have the technology to visit or see them. If we did, would we recognize life that is substantially different than our (not carbon-based)? Mythology does not support new discoveries, does not support space exploration...in reality, it does nothing besides supporting the fragile human ego, that fixates on the need to be a "special creation", product of a divine mind even in the face of ALL logical and physical evidence of the contrary (and sometimes, the lack thereof)

mcadam.stephen
mcadam.stephen

You are right in that it does not mean there is life, but it also does not mean there is not either. With respect to the Creationist position, if you are prepared to believe in a self existant God, then that is even more remarkable than believing in a self existant universe. The existance of a God is not necessary to explain the existance of the universe, or any other universe.

eabarth
eabarth

@BabuG.Ranganathan I bet you wish you didn't have to list your credentials every time you say something wacky like this.

gillibean7
gillibean7

@aaronsancheznw7 wow. five year olds eally sold not be allowed to use the computer unsupervised. *need *sure * plus **by the way**

eabarth
eabarth

@aaronsancheznw7 We're not anywhere near being able to get to this planet. We launched vessels over 40 years ago and they haven't even exited the solar system yet (Voyager). 

We'd have to figure out how to propel vessels probably at least at half the speed of light, which would still make for a century-long trip assuming the passengers wouldn't be killed by interstellar wind radiation, and develop probably thousands of pieces of technology that don't yet exist in order to create some kind of a sustainable habitat.

First, we should figure out whether this planet has a solid or gaseous surface. The people who discovered it say it's about a 50/50 shot.

John
John

Upon giving it some consideration, beyond a certain gravity, even a mechanized exoskeleton would not protect your body from gravity inside the suit. (It would only give you mobility).

 I realize test pilots and astronauts can take extreme G-forces for a few seconds or minutes with special suits.  It is also my understanding that even then, there is a possibility of loss of color vision, complete loss of vision, or unconsciousness and probably several other undesirable effects, among them, stress on your heart due to the extra work it would have to do.

For exploring, however, we are not talking seconds or minutes, we are talking hours or days (on the surface or in your landed ship).

Tell.Me.About.The.Gravity!
Tell.Me.About.The.Gravity!

@John Fun things happen in less than earth gravity.  Components of your blood don't mix properly and separate. Lung efficiency changes. Cell growth and functions are interfered with. Even the water in your brain is affected. Etc. I am not so clear on more than earth gravity. Like I said, gravity is a HUGE issue, and they NEVER bring it up. Seems like this is all some "Star Trek is near" feel good propaganda or something! LOL

John
John

@Tell.Me.About.The.Gravity!  Now if it had a moon whose size that was about the same ratio as our moon is to earth .....  But I think James Cameron already did that!