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In a major scientific discovery, a team of astronomers have identified 60 new planets in our 'immediate solar neighbourhood' and a hot “super-Earth."
The international team, including Dr Mikko Tuomi of the University of Hertfordshire have also discovered evidence of another 54 planets which could bring the total to 114 new worlds.
Scientists are particularly interested in the planet named Gliese 411b which has a rocky surface and is located in the fourth nearest star system to the sun. This planet is a hot “super-Earth” and although it cannot support life, the significance of its discovery means that virtually all the nearest stars to the Sun have planets orbiting them. Planets that could be similar to earth.
The results are based on observations taken over a 20 year period by US astronomers using the Keck-I telescope in Hawaii as part of the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey.
During that time the team made 61,000 observations of 1,600 stars. Dr Tuomi, the only European-based researcher working on the project, led the data research that revealed the existence of the newly reported planets.
Dr Tuomi, from the University of Hertfordshire’s Centre for Astrophysics Research, said: ‘It is fascinating to think that when we look at the nearest stars, all of them appear to have planets orbiting them. This is something astronomers were not convinced about, even as little as five years ago. These new planets also help us better understand the formation processes of planetary systems and provide interesting targets for future efforts to image the planets directly.’
The scientists' findings were based on measuring small changes in the target stars' colours which indirectly revealing the existences of the planets.