New Planets Found Orbiting Stars Near Solar System

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The possible GJ 411 planet is at least 3.8 times more massive than Earth, and it's probably too hot to be habitable, study team members said.

A group of global researchers hit the planetary jackpot by spotting 60 new planets, including a "super Earth". The planet orbits a star called Gliese 411, and is located in the fourth nearest star system to the Sun, according to a statement from the university.

However, the planet, GJ 411b, continues a trend that has been seen in the overall population of detected exoplanets: the smallest planets are found around the smallest stars.

The results have come to light after 61,000 individual observations of 1,600 stars were taken over a 20-year period by USA astronomers.

For the first time the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey started in 1996 by Steve Vogt and Geoffrey Marcy, two famous astronomers from the University of California and Paul Butler, from the Carnegie Institute of Science, in Washington.

Mikko Tuomi of the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom led a sophisticated statistical analysis of the large data set to tease out the periodic signals most likely to be planets.

But astronomers did not believe it 5 years ago, but now they believe it.

Dr Butler said: 'This paper and data release is one of my crowning achievements as an Astronomer. The discovery boosts the chances of finding a planet with hospitable conditions that might support alien life. It represents a good chunk of my life's work'.

"We were very conservative in this paper about what counts as an exoplanet candidate and what does not", Tuomi explained, "and even with our stringent criteria, we found over 100 new likely planet candidates".

Dr Tuomi added: 'Keck-I telescope and its instruments have been wonderful tools in establishing the current consensus that virtually all stars have planets orbiting them.

The radial velocity method takes advantage of the fact that the planet's gravity also affects the star. The Keck planet survey has become an intergenerational project that keeps yielding important discoveries more than 20 years after it was initiated'. The technique was used to detect hundreds of planets existing around the closest stars, including Proxima b orbiting the nearest star to the Sun, and Proxima Centauri by Dr. Tuomi. The tiny variations then reveal the existence of an orbiting planet.

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