Astronomers find 50 'exoplanets', 16 'super Earths'
Astronomers have found fifty new alien worlds, including 16 'super Earths,' the largest extrasolar planet haul announced at one time.
The discoveries bring the total number of known extrasolar planets, or exoplanets, to 645.
"The harvest of discoveries ... has exceeded all expectations, and includes an exceptionally rich population of super-Earths and Neptune-type planets hosted by stars very similar to our sun," study leader Michel Mayor, an astronomer at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, said in a statement.
One of the newly discovered worlds, dubbed HD 85512b, lies at the edge of its star's habitable zone—the region around a star where liquid water, and thus life as we know it, can exist.
The planetary treasure trove was found using an instrument called HARPS—short for High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher—at the European Southern Observatory's La Silla facility in Chile.
Alan Gould, an astronomy educator at the University of California, Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science, called the discoveries "pretty exciting."
"This big batch of planets contributes to our overall knowledge of what extrasolar planet systems are like—how common Jupiter-type giant planets are relative to Neptune-types and super Earths, and whether they're close in or far out from their host stars," said Gould, also a member of NASA's Kepler exoplanet-finding mission.
"These kinds of statistics can help us figure out what star-planet systems are like in general, and that has implications for whether there are Earthlike planets or not.
"This is looking more and more like a golden age of exoplanet discovery."