08 Nov 2012

Swelling Earth population? Desire to relocate to a distant solar system?  No problem, just get your star ship ready, as scientists say they have found a new exoplanet that may have the right conditions to support life.  The new planet called HD 40307g is part of a six-planet system. 

The new "super-Earth" is located in what is believed to be the habitable zone in this star system, or the "Goldilocks" zone.  The discovery was made by a team of astronomers led by Mikko Tuomi at the University of Hertfordshire and Guillem Anglada-Escude of the University of Goettingen.  It should be noted that this is a candidate planet, not officially confirmed, but believed to exist.

It was originally believed that this system surrounding dwarf star HD 40307 had only three planets, however scientists used techniques to avoid fake signals created by stellar activity and identified three new super-Earth candidates.  The dwarf star is considered "quiet and old" perfectly capable of having planets that could harbor life.  This star is dimmer, cooler and smaller than that of the one in our solar system.

Tuomi stated:

“We pioneered new data analysis techniques including the use of the wavelength as a filter to reduce the influence of activity on the signal from this star, this significantly increased our sensitivity and enabled us to reveal three new super-Earth planets around the star known as HD 40307, making it into a six-planet system.”

HD 40307g is the sixth planet from its star and orbits in 197.8 days.  It is thought to be seven times larger than Earth and rotates on its own axis creating day and night effects.  HD 40307 g is 42-light years from Earth, which means that its close enough that one day direct imaging telescopes may collect more data and images.

Tuomi went on to say that there is a 50 percent chance that HD 40307g would be a rocky planet like Earth, but there is insufficient data to know whether its a large Earth or a warm gaseous planet like Neptune.  Average temperatures on HD 40307g might be around 9C or 48F if you scale up a similar terrestrial atmosphere.  The orbit of the planet is a bit eccentric so there may be seasonal shifts in temperatures ranging between -17 to 52C (1.4 to 126F) which is still in the tolerable range for most life.  Overall its radius is between 1.9 and 2.5 that of Earth's radius and 7 times as massive, at least on some calculations.  Depending on the density of the planet and its size, it could actually have the same surface gravity as the Earth, meaning if you stood on HD 40307G you would weigh the same as here on Earth.

This isn't the first exoplanet discovered in a habitable zone.  Others such as Giliese 581 g have been discovered.  Giliese 581 g is thought to be the most likely candidate to hold life.  It was discovered in 2010.

Source: Digitaljournal, herts.ac.uk

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