La Silla Observatory Discovers 16 Super-Earths

09/13/2011 11:07 AM ET

Astronomers say that 16 new super Earth’s were found and believe one has water flowing with the possibility of supporting life. There’s been a discovery of 50 planets using the High Accuracy Radial telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. It is operated by the European Southern Observatory.

The super Earth’s, also known as an exoplanets, were presented at the Extreme Solar Systems II conference by team leader Michel Mayor of the University of Geneva in Switzerland. The term refers only to the mass of the planet, and does not imply anything about the surface conditions or habitability. An alternative term “gas dwarf” may be more accurate for some examples.

Scientists say that one of the Earth-like planets found by La Silla is part of its planetary system that would make it possible for it to sustain life. The planet, called HD 85512b, has a mass that is just 3.6 times that of the Earth and is cooler than our sun. One key factor is that it could sustain life is being in a position its planetary system which allows it to have water flowing on the surface, similar to recent Mars findings.

“This is the lowest-mass confirmed planet discovered by the radial velocity method that potentially lies in the habitable zone of its star, and the second low-mass planet discovered by HARPS inside the habitable zone,” exoplanet habitability expert Lisa Kaltenegger, of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, said din a statement..

Using the High Accuracy Radial velocity telescope, we’ll be able to find out relatively soon if the planet does have the atmosphere necessary for liquid water.

Although no current telescopes are up to the task of getting an image of the super-Earth planet, the planned European Extremely Large Telescope, slated to begin construction next year in Chile, will be “technically capable of finding life around the nearest stars,” ESO astronomer Markus Kissler-Patig said in a statement.

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