Goldilocks planet found among 50 exoplanets

Added by on September 13, 2011

Star HD85512 in an image derived from the Digitized Sky Survey 2 based on data provided by the European Southern Observatory / European Southern Observatory

Astronomers at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) announced 50 newly discovered planets on Monday, after discovering a Goldilocks planet last month called HD85512b.

The 50 planets, all located outside our solar system, were discovered using the ESO’s High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) spectrograph located in Chile, South America. The discovery pegs the total number of extra-solar planets, or exoplanets – planets outside of our solar system – at 600. Exoplanets are considered to have a higher probability of being able to support some form of life.

One planet among the 50 newly discovered planets – HD85512b – caught astronomers’ attention because it is about 3.6 times the mass of Earth and is paired with a sun-like star. The distance average between HD85512b and its star is considered to be in the Goldilocks zone, where the planet could sustain a liveable temperature of about 30 to 48 degrees Celsius (85-120 deg Fahrenheit). The Goldilocks zone is reasoned to be not too hot or too cold to possibly sustain life.

Planet HD85512b would have to be a solid planet and have water to support life and with gravity of about 1.4 times Earth’s gravity, life could be shorter and closer to the ground. Scientists do not currently¬†have a means to determine the physical makeup of a planet to conclusively determine whether a planet is solid or gaseous.

The director of the astronomy program at the University of Texas, Manfred Cuntz, said more research is necessary to determine if the new planet supports life. Cuntz added, “It looks like this is a strong candidate, in principle.”

The new planet’s orbit is almost circular and its star, called HD85512, is less active than our sun making it less likely to cause damage to the planet’s possible atmosphere through electromagnetic storms. Electromagnetic storms vary in intensity, Earth was partially in the path of a storm caused by a sunspot last week.

Planet HD85512b and its star are located about 35 light-years from Earth in a constellation called Vela. One light year is 10 trillion kilometers (about 6 trillion miles) and, given the current limitations of space travel, we are not likely to be able to visit the planet anytime soon.

The last discovery of a similar exoplanet was in 2007.