text-only page produced automatically by LIFT Text Transcoder Skip all navigation and go to page contentSkip top navigation and go to directorate navigationSkip top navigation and go to page navigation
National Science Foundation
News
design element
News
News From the Field
For the News Media
Special Reports
Research Overviews
NSF-Wide Investments
Speeches & Lectures
NSF Current Newsletter
Multimedia Gallery
News Archive
News by Research Area
Arctic & Antarctic
Astronomy & Space
Biology
Chemistry & Materials
Computing
Earth & Environment
Education
Engineering
Mathematics
Nanoscience
People & Society
Physics
 

Email this pagePrint this page


Press Release 13-117
Astronomers Detect Three 'Super-Earths' in Nearby Star's Habitable Zone

Discovery represents whole new era, studying earth-like planets

Record-breaking Super-Earths discovered in Scorpion constellation and dwarf star's habitable zone.

Record-breaking Super-Earths discovered in Scorpion constellation and dwarf star's habitable zone.
Credit and Larger Version

June 26, 2013

New observations of a star known as Gliese 667C have revealed a system with at least six planets, including a record-breaking three super-Earths orbiting in the star's "habitable zone" where liquid water could exist on the planets. This is the first planetary system found to have a fully packed habitable zone.

"The three planets in the habitable zone are roughly Earth-sized, and only about three to four times the mass of the Earth," said Steven Vogt, University of California, Santa Cruz astronomy and astrophysics professor who is on a team with Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism that made this discovery.

The same team announced last year they had already found one planet in the habitable zone of this star system. They suspected the presence of more planets but couldn't confirm them given the data set available then. This new result confirms the presence of two previously known planets orbiting this star, but also reveals five more. The National Science Foundation (NSF) funds both Vogt and Butler's research.

"Finding multiple Super-earths orbiting in the habitable zone of such a nearby star is quite significant," Vogt said. "It really confirms our suspicion that our galaxy is teeming with potentially habitable rocky planets. Many of these, such as the ones around GJ 667C, are even near enough to imagine sending robotic interstellar probes out to study within a few human lifetimes."

Also funded by NSF, coauthor Rory Barnes at the University of Washington noted the discovery offers additional insights. "The number of potentially habitable planets in our galaxy is much greater if we can expect to find several of them around each low-mass star. Instead of looking at 10 stars to look for a single potentially habitable planet, we now know we can look at just one star and have a high chance of finding several of them," he said

Gliese 667C is a well-studied star. Just over one-third the mass of the Sun, it is part of a triple-star system known as Gliese 667 (also referred to as GJ 667), 22 light-years away in the constellation Scorpius (the Scorpion). This is relatively close to Earth, within the Sun's galactic neighborhood, and much closer than the star systems investigated using telescopes such as the planet-hunting Kepler space telescope.

"This discovery is really the start of a whole new era studying Earth-like planets that may have liquid water on the surface," said Maria Womack, NSF program officer. "This is a result of more than a decade of hard work using the best tools to do cutting-edge science--just the kind of research NSF loves to be part of."

The team of astronomers--led by Guillem Anglada-Escudé of the University of Göttingen, Germany, and Mikko Tuomi of the University of Hertfordshire, U.K.--combined new observations from Keck and other telescopes with extensive data collected previously by the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher at the European Southern Observatory's 3.6-meter telescope in Chile. The findings will be published this week in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Ivy Kupec, NSF, (703) 292-8796, ikupec@nsf.gov
Vince Stricherz, University of Washington, (206) 543-2580, vinces@uw.edu
Tim Stephens, University of California, Santa Cruz, (831) 459-2495, stephens@ucsc.edu

Co-Investigators
Rory Barnes, University of Washington, (206) 543-8979, rory@astro.washington.edu
Steve Vogt, University of California, Santa Cruz, (831) 459-2151, vogt@ucolick.org

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, its budget is $7.2 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

 Get News Updates by Email 

Useful NSF Web Sites:
NSF Home Page: http://www.nsf.gov
NSF News: http://www.nsf.gov/news/
For the News Media: http://www.nsf.gov/news/newsroom.jsp
Science and Engineering Statistics: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/
Awards Searches: http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/

 

Slide showing a graphic representation of the super earth planet
View Video
As the Super-Earths turn...
Credit and Larger Version



Email this pagePrint this page
Back to Top of page