Massive 'Super Earth' Has Conditions Suitable For Life, Astronomers Announce

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SUPEREARTHZOOM
Artist's impression of the HD40307g Planet | University of Hertfordshire

A giant 'Super Earth' has been discovered relatively close to our solar system which may be capable of supporting life.

The planet was found orbiting around HD 40307, an orange star which is about three-quarters as large as our sun.

It is located in the Pictor constellation, about 42 light years from Earth, and has at least six planets.

The first of the planets orbiting the sun was confirmed in 2008, but none were thought to have the correct conditions for life.

But now a massive, rocky world about seven times as massive as the Earth has been found in the 'Goldilocks zone' of the solar system, where water should be able to exist in liquid form on its surface.

The planet orbits HD 40307 every 320 days, and is tantalisingly similar to our home in several respects.

Unfortunately, closer study of the planet is not possible for now, because the planets do not pass in front of their star relative to the Earth.

The High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher telescope used to find the planet uses small shifts in the light from various stars to detect planets. But doing so is extremely difficult at such long distances, when the light's path is interfered with by solar flares and magnetic storms.

New and more accurate instruments would be needed to confirm that the planet is indeed as similar to Earth as thought.

Astronomer Steven Vogt, with the University of California's Lick Observatory, told Discovery News that the team might be able to add more planets to the system in future.

It is also thought that future telescopes would be able to peer at the worlds in more detail in future.