Super-Earths Galore!

Just how common are Earth-like planets in the universe?

About five times more common than previously thought, according to European researchers presenting their latest findings at a conference in France today:

European astronomers on Monday said they had located dozens of giant planets in three distant solar systems.

The discovery suggests that at least one third of stars similar to our own Sun harbour such planets, multiplying previous estimates by five.

A trio of these ‘super-Earths’ — so-called because they are several times the mass of our own planet — were detected orbiting a star known as HD 40307 some 42 lights away.

Reuters has additional details: 

The [three] planets are bigger than Earth — one is 4.2 times the mass, one is 6.7 times and the third is 9.4 times.

They orbit their star at extremely rapid speeds — one whizzing around in just four days, compared with Earth’s 365 days, one taking 10 days and the slowest taking 20 days.

The first planet outside our solar system was detected in 1995, and less than 280 of these exoplanets had been found before today’s unveiling of 45 new exoplanet discoveries.

The astronomers used the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher— or HARPS — to spot the planets. The next-generation HARPS spectrograph is used in conjunction with the 3.6-m telescope at La Silla observatory in Chile


La Silla is a 2400-m mountain, bordering the southern extremity of the Atacama desert in Chile. It is located about 160 Km north of La Serena. Its geographical coordinates are: Latitude 29º 15′ south & Longitude 70º 44′ west.

Originally known as Cinchado, the mountain was renamed La Silla (the saddle) after its shape. It rises quite isolated and remote from any artificial light and dust sources (astronomy’s worst enemies). La Silla was the first ESO observatory built in Chile. 

The ESO press release also has additional information on these exciting, extra-solar discoveries.