Astronomers from the Lick Observatory at the top of Mount Hamilton recently discovered three new planets that they described as “supersized Earths,” as they are currently orbiting a star that is 54 light years away from home. By comparison, the nearest star system to our own is about 10.5 light years away, and the nearest planet similar in size to Earth is 12 light years away.
Researchers at the University of California, in cooperation with the University of Hawaii, the University of California Observatories, and Tennessee State University have been working tirelessly for years to confirm that the planets were in fact there.
The planets have been found orbiting a star known as the HD 7924. They are also orbiting at a distance that is closer than the distance that Mercury is to our sun (about 35.9 million miles), and the three planets complete their orbits within a respective order of five, 15, and 24 days, respectively. So far, the Kepler telescope has detected 1900 planets, but 11 percent of that number may be false positives. When considering planets that are the most suitable for life, they factor in size and the variances in gravity that the new worlds might hold. At present, it is estimated that there are approximately 11 billion planets in the universe that may have terrain similar to our own and could support human life.
“The three planets are unlike anything in our solar system, with masses seven to eight times the mass of Earth and orbits very close to their host star,” said UC Berkeley graduate student Lauren Weiss in a recently released statement.
To complete their search, the researchers relied on the help of a robotic telescope called the “Automated Planet Finder,” which does a search for planets neighboring along nearby stars that could potentially host a wide array of diverse life forms. The most distant planets that have been discovered by astronomers happen to be gas giants much closer to Jupiter in their composition, as opposed to a rocky terrain planets like Earth or Mars.
The earliest evidence of planets that surround HD 7924 first turned up six years ago.
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