~credits video: http://youtube.com/ESOobservatory Astronomers using ESO instruments have discovered a remarkable extrasolar planetary system that has some striking similarities to our own Solar System. At least five planets are orbiting the Sun-like star HD 10180, and the regular pattern of their orbits is similar to that observed for our neighbouring planets. One of the new extrasolar worlds could be only 1.4 times the mass of the Earth, making it the least massive exoplanet ever found. This video podcast explains how these faraway planets were detected and exactly what we know about them. Astronomers using ESO's world-leading HARPS instrument have discovered a planetary system containing at least five planets, orbiting the Sun-like star HD 10180. The researchers also believe the system has two other planets, one of which would have the lowest mass ever found, making the system similar to our own Solar System in terms of the number of planets. Furthermore, the scientists find that the location of the planets follows a regular pattern, as also seen in our own Solar System The team of astronomers used the HARPS spectrograph, attached to ESO's 3.6-metre telescope at La Silla, Chile. HARPS is an instrument with unrivalled stability and great precision, and the world's most successful exoplanet hunter. The astronomers, led by Christophe Lovis from the Geneva Observatory, studied the Sun-like star HD 10180 over a period of six years! This star is located 127 light-years away in the southern constellation Hydrus ("the Male Water Snake"). Thanks to the 190 individual HARPS measurements, the astronomers detected the wobbles of the star caused by five or more planets. The five strongest signals correspond to planets with Neptune-like masses — between 13 and 25 Earth masses — which orbit the star in between 6 to 600 days. The astronomers have also strong reason to believe that two other planets are present. One would be a Saturn-like planet orbiting in 2200 days. The other, having a mass of only about 1.4 times that of the Earth would be the least massive exoplanet ever discovered. This suspected planet is very close to its host star and so it is likely to be very hot. One 'year' on this planet lasts only 1.18 Earth-days! The newly discovered Solar System is unique in several respects. First of all, with at least five Neptune-like planets lying within a distance equivalent to the orbit of Mars, this system is more populated than our own Solar System in its inner region, and has many more massive planets there. Furthermore, the system probably has no Jupiter-like gas giant. In addition, all the planets seem to have almost circular orbits. Dynamical studies of the new system reveal complex interactions between planets and give us insights into its long-term evolution. Using the new discovery as well as data for other planetary systems, the astronomers discovered that the locations of the planets seem to follow a regular pattern — similar to the "Titius-Bode" law that exists in our Solar System. This could be a general signature of how planetary systems form. Another important result is that all very massive planetary systems are found around massive and metal-rich stars, while the four lowest-mass systems are found around lower-mass and metal-poor stars. These properties confirm current theoretical models. There is no doubt that this remarkable discovery highlights the fact that we are now entering a new era in exoplanet science: the study of complex planetary systems and not just of individual planets!! And with HARPS, European astronomers will be a driving force behind this transition. --- ESOcast is produced by ESO, the European Southern Observatory. ESO, the European Southern Observatory, is the pre-eminent intergovernmental science and technology organisation in astronomy designing, constructing and operating the world's most advanced ground-based telescopes. • http://eso.org
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A potentially habitable alien planet — one that scientists say is the best candidate yet to harbor water, and possibly even life, on its surface — has been found around a nearby star. The planet is located in the habitable zone of its host star, which is a narrow circumstellar region where temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist on the planet's surface. "It's the Holy Grail of exoplanet research to find a planet around a star orbiting at the right distance so it's not too close where it would lose all its water and boil away, and not too far where it would all freeze," Steven Vogt, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told SPACE.com. "It's right smack in the habitable zone — there's no question or discussion about it. It's not on the edge, it's right in there." Vogt is one of the authors of the new study, which was led by Guillem Anglada-Escudé and Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution for Science, a private, nonprofit research organization based in Washington, D.C. "This planet is the new best candidate to support liquid water and, perhaps, life as we know it," Anglada-Escudé said in a statement. The researchers estimate that the planet, called GJ 667Cc, is at least 4.5 times as massive as Earth, which makes it a so-called super-Earth. It takes roughly 28 days to make one orbital lap around its parent star, which is located a mere 22 light-years away from Earth, in the constellation Scorpius (the Scorpion). "This is basically our next-door neighbor," Vogt said. "It's very nearby. There are only about 100 stars closer to us than this one." Interestingly enough, the host star, GJ 667C, is a member of a triple-star system. GJ 667C is an M-class dwarf star that is about a third of the mass of the sun, and while it is faint, it can be seen by ground-based telescopes, Vogt said. [Gallery: The Strangest Alien Planets] "The planet is around one star in a triple-star system," Vogt explained. "The other stars are pretty far away, but they would look pretty nice in the sky." The discovery of a planet around GJ 667C came as a surprise to the astronomers, because the entire star system has a different chemical makeup than our sun. The system has much lower abundances of heavy elements (elements heavier than hydrogen and helium), such as iron, carbon and silicon. "It's pretty deficient in metals," Vogt said. "These are the materials out of which planets form — the grains of stuff that coalesce to eventually make up planets — so we shouldn't have really expected this star to be a likely case for harboring planets." The fortuitous discovery could mean that potentially habitable alien worlds could exist in a greater variety of environments than was previously thought possible, the researchers said. "Statistics tell us we shouldn't have found something this quickly this soon unless there's a lot of them out there," Vogt said. "This tells us there must be an awful lot of these planets out there. It was almost too easy to find, and it happened too quickly." MORE HERE: The CELESTIAL Convergence http://thecelestialconvergence.blogspot.com/2012/02/another-earth-extraterrestrial.html FAIR USE NOTICE: These pages/video may contain copyrighted (© ) material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available to advance understanding of ecological, POLITICAL, HUMAN RIGHTS, economic, DEMOCRACY, scientific, MORAL, ETHICAL, and SOCIAL JUSTICE ISSUES, etc. It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior general interest in receiving similar information for research and educational.