A new so-called “super-Earth” has recently been discovered by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) using their exoplanet-hunting telescope, reports the AP. There are actually 16 of these “super-Earths” amongst 50 new alien planets, but one in particular, named HD 85512 b, has drawn the attention of the astronomers because it orbits at the edge of its star’s (like our sun) habitable zone, which could suggest life-supporting conditions. The habitable zone is a narrow region in the orbit where the distance is right for liquid water to exist in the right conditions. Earth is in our Sun’s habitable zone.
“The harvest of discoveries from HARPS [High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher instrument] has exceeded all expectations and includes an exceptionally rich population of super-Earths and Neptune-type planets hosted by stars very similar to our sun. And even better — the new results show that the pace of discovery is accelerating,” says HARPS team leader Michel Mayor of the University of Geneva in a statement.
This HD 85512 b planet is 3.6 times the size of Earth. Its parent star (its sun) is located about 35 light-years away from the Earth, which in space makes it relatively close.
Exoplanet habitability expert Lisa Kaltenegger tells reporters, “I think we’re in for an incredibly exciting time. We’re not just going out there to discover new continents — we’re actually going out there to discover brand new worlds.”
Exciting stuff. We’ve been looking forward to colonizing other planets since elementary school when we read “This Place Has No Atmosphere.”
UPDATE: A previous version of this article erroneously reported on the distance from Earth to our Sun. It has been corrected. We apologize for the error.