4 June 2013

An academic from the University of Hertfordshire forms part of an international team of scientists that have discovered a potentially habitable super-Earth orbiting a nearby star.

The planet's host star is well-established to have a different makeup from that of our Sun, lacking the metallic elements which are the building blocks of terrestrial planets. This means habitable planets could form in a greater variety of environments than previously believed.

Hugh Jones, professor of astronomy at the University, said: “The new planet is expected to absorb about the same amount of energy from its star that the Earth absorbs from the Sun, allowing surface temperatures similar to Earth and perhaps liquid water. But this cannot be confirmed; further study will be necessary to understand more about the planet's atmosphere.”

Professor Jones worked with the team, led by Carnegie’s Guillem Anglada-Escudé, to analyse public data gathered from the European Southern Observatory on an M-class dwarf star called GJ 667C, which is twenty-two light years away. Their planet-finding technique involved measuring the small wobbles in a star’s orbit in response to a planet’s gravity, incorporating new measurements from the Keck Observatory’s High Resolution Echelle Spectrograph and the new Carnegie Planet Finder Spectrograph at the Magellan II Telescope.

Their work will be published by The Astrophysical Journal Letters and the current version of the manuscript can be found here.