Earlier today, the web was abuzz over a ‘major’ discovery to be announced in the field of extrasolar planets. Well, the press conference came and went and the news is indeed ground-breaking for planetary scientists and astrobiologists. The finding: over 50 alien planets, 16 of which are Earth-like, and one of those which is in its star’s ‘habitable zone’ and thus could possibly support life.
Michel Meyer, head of the ESO’s planet hunters, said that the observatory’s bag of new planets using its High Accuracy Radial Planet Searcher (HARPS) instrument “exceeded all expectations.” Making the discovery even sweeter was the fact that many of these new worlds orbit stars that are very similar to our own Sun.
As for the planet most capable of, in theory, supporting life, its official designation is HD88512b and it orbits a star about 35 light years away which, in cosmic terms, is right in the neighborhood. Obviously, with all of these new planets now discovered, scientists will have their hands full in trying to ascertain exactly what kind of worlds these planets are and if they could indeed be capable of supporting life as we know it.
On top of this, the future could be even brighter.
In total, the ESO has discovered over 350 planets and over 2/3 of the Earth-like variety. In the future, the ESO’s telescope currently operating HARPS will get an even more sensitive version of the instrument and the giant, 129 foot diameter Extremely Large Telescope will get a similar unit, too.
Needless to say, these are good times to be an astronomer.