New Super-Earth Discovered Just 22 Light Years Away
By McKinley Noble
New life might be waiting just around the corner, as a brand-new “super-Earth” was recently discovered by a team of astronomers from UC Santa Cruz and the Carnegie Institution for Science.
As PhysOrg.com reports, the planet is roughly 4.5 times larger than our own Earth and orbits host star GJ 667C, an M-class dwarf star in a triple-star system. Even more interesting is the fact that despite the abundance of suns, the planet is at a perfect distance from its host star, perhaps at just the right distance that people could live there. With that many suns in the planet’s skyline each day, it’s surprising that it can support life in the form of water — but then again, even Tattooine manages moisture, and it’s mostly a desert world.
“It’s the Holy Grail of exoplanet research to find a planet around a star orbiting at the right distance so it’s not too close where it would lose all its water and boil away, and not too far where it would all freeze,” Steven Vogt, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told SPACE.com. “It’s right smack in the habitable zone — there’s no question or discussion about it. It’s not on the edge, it’s right in there.”
Also, this super-Earth is relatively close to our own solar system, but definitely nowhere where we’ll be able to reach any time soon. At 22 light years away (or 132 trillion miles of space, if our math is accurate), it would take even the fastest space probe roughly, well, forever to even get that far. We won’t bore you with the equations, but by the time a probe reached “Earth 2” in time to ask them to come pick us up in their assumedly-advanced spaceships, the Earth’s water and atmosphere would already be completely burned away by Sol, our own host star.
On a cheerier note, Geekosystem notes that the discovery of this planet means that there’s probably a lot more hospitable worlds than we think. Whether or not that means there could be closer super-Earths is anyone’s guess. If there are, we certainly hope something out there is willing to drop us some light-speed travel technology and let us couch surf for a while.
The host star, dubbed GJ 667C, is an M class dwarf star and is part of a triple star system, which contains the other two stars, GJ 667A and B, which are a pair of orange K dwarf stars. [UC Santa Cruz’s Steven Vogt] states that the star was an unlikely candidate to host other planets, due to its metal-poor composition, and theorizes that if this star can host planets, other unlikely stars could as well, which in turn could make the amount of hosted planets greater than expected.
Look into it further if you happen to read Astrophysical Journal Letters, while the official manuscript will go online at http://arxiv.org/archive/astro-ph via Cornell University.
McKinley Noble is a former GamePro staff editor, current technology nerd and eternal mixed martial arts enthusiast. He also likes Japanese sports dramas and soap operas. Follow him on Twitter or just Google his name.