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Press Release 13-117

Astronomers Detect Three 'Super-Earths' in Nearby Star's Habitable Zone

Discovery represents whole new era, studying earth-like planets

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

Artist conceptualizations offer a graphic representation of radial velocity data that helped to identify the three newest Super-Earths around Gliese 667C. Super-Earths are planets more massive than Earth, but less massive than planets like Uranus or Neptune, and are within their stars habitable zone--not too hot and not too cold--a thin shell around a star in which water may be present in liquid form if conditions are right. This is the first time that three such planets have been spotted orbiting in this zone in the same system.

Credit: René Heller, Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam, Germany.


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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. Here is an animated graphic representation of the radial velocity data that helped to identify these new planets.

"This discovery is really the start of a whole new era studying Earth-like planets which 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 a part of."

Credit: Guillem Anglada-Escudé, Universität Göttingen, and René Heller, Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam