Planet Habitable For Life Discovered 42 Light-Years Away; HD 40307g Categorized As 'Super-Earth

By Staff Reporter on November 8, 2012 11:47 PM EST

HD 40307g
HD 40307g artist impression (Photo: Reuters)

Be it "Star Trek" or "Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy," generations of dreamers are eager to play with ideas of life beyond our planet.

Now, Astronomers have announced that life can very likely be found in an alien planet merely 42 light-years away from us. A "super-Earth" known as HD 40307g, is an exo-planet orbiting within the host star's habitable zone, a radius that is just right for liquid water on the planet. The HD 40307g orbits its star at a distance of approximately 56 million miles. Comparatively, our Earth orbits around the sun at 93 million miles away. Crucially, their star is not as large or as luminous as our sun, pulling its habitable distance significantly closer than ours.

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A part of the HD 40307 star system, scientists managed to identify three host planets via the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher, or HARPS. An 11.8-foot telescope located at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, HARPS allows astronomers to find tiny gravitational wobbles from a planet orbiting a star.

While other stars are much too close and too hot to support life, Hugh Jones of the University of Hertfordshire in England says, "The longer orbit of the new planet means that its climate and atmosphere may be just right to support life. Just as Goldilocks liked her porridge to be neither too hot nor too cold but just right, this planet or indeed any moons that it has lie in an orbit comparable to Earth, increasing the probability of it being habitable."

Why is the HD 40307g categorized as a "super-Earth?" Scientists estimate that the planet is likely to be seven times as large as our own. However, Mikko Tuomi, another researcher at the University of Hertfordshire, suggests that the surface on HD 40307g may not be as rocky as Earth.

Tuomi told SPACE.com, "If I had to guess, I would say 50-50, but the truth at the moment is that we simply do not know whether the planet is a large Earth or a small, warm Neptune without a solid surface."

Another important element regarding the HD 40307g is that its orbit is not tidally locked to the star in the way the moon is to Earth. The HD 40307g can rotate just as freely as our Earth does,effectively exposing all sides of the planet to the star.

Tuomi adds that the lack of tidal locking further "increases its chances of actually having Earth-like conditions."

Finally, thanks to the relatively close 42 light-year distance to our planet, scientists believe that telescopes capable of imaging HD 40307g directly is highly possible as well.

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