Astronomers Discover Two ‘Super-Earths’ In A Habitable Zone 64 Trillion Miles Away


astronomers-discover-two-‘super-earths’-in-a-habitable-zone-64-trillion-miles-away

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Astronomers discovered two “super-Earth” planets in a zone that experts think might be able to contain alien life, according to a study released Thursday in the journal Science Magazine.

The “super-Earth” planets orbit the red dwarf star Gliese 887, 64 trillion miles or about 11 light-years from Earth, the study said. Both planets orbit the star at a distance that could allow water in liquid form, which is necessary to support life.

“The planets are interior to, but close to the inner edge of, the liquid-water habitable zone,” the astronomers said in the study. 

“Super-Earths” are planets between one and 10 times the mass of Earth, according to Live Science. Red dwarfs — the most common type of star in space — are significantly lighter and cooler than the sun, according to Space.com

Gliese 887 has long intrigued astronomers looking for alien life beyond Earth. The star’s quiet nature suggests that a planet orbiting the star has a “greater chance at life” compared to planets orbiting other red dwarf stars that are unstable, according to Space.com. (RELATED: Virgin Galactic To Develop Private Astronaut Program And Space Station Transport Under NASA Deal)

A rendering of NASA's Mars 2020 rover, which will store rock samples during future missions. (Photo: NASA)

A rendering of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover, which will store rock samples during future missions. (Photo: NASA)

“The host star Gliese 887 is the best star in close proximity to the sun to understand whether its exoplanets have atmospheres and whether they have life, because it is such a bright and quiet star,” the report’s lead author Sandra Jeffers, who is an astrophysicist at the University of Göttingen in Germany, told Space.com.

Both of the discovered planets are larger than Earth, but orbit much closer to Gliese 887 than Earth does to the sun, according to Space.com. The first planet is 4.2 times Earth’s mass and the second is 7.6 times Earth’s mass. Meanwhile, the planets take 9.3 and 21.8 days to orbit Gliese 887 respectively compared to Earth’s 365-day orbital period, according to the study.

Jeffers had been searching for planets orbiting Gliese 887 for nearly 20 years, she told Space.com. She will now set her sights on determining if a third planet is orbiting Gliese 887.

Gliese 887 is the heaviest red dwarf star within 20 light years of Earth and the twelfth-closest star to Earth.

The discovery comes as NASA continues to gear up for future manned expeditions to the moon and Mars, according to Reuters. NASA accepted a challenge from President Donald Trump last year to send American astronauts to the moon by 2024.

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