From “Astronomers Find 50 New Exoplanets: Richest Haul of Planets So Far Includes 16 New Super-Earths” (ScienceDaily, Sep. 12, 2011), we learn:
The HARPS team, led by Michel Mayor (University of Geneva, Switzerland), have announced the discovery of more than 50 new exoplanets orbiting nearby stars, including sixteen super-Earths . This is the largest number of such planets ever announced at one time . The new findings are being presented at a conference on Extreme Solar Systems where 350 exoplanet experts are meeting in Wyoming, USA.
“Super-Earths” are “potentially rocky worlds that are more massive than our planet,”as opposed to gas giants like Neptune.
Curious how the term suggests much more than that.
“The harvest of discoveries from HARPS has exceeded all expectations and includes an exceptionally rich population of super-Earths and Neptune-type planets hosted by stars very similar to our Sun. And even better — the new results show that the pace of discovery is accelerating,” says Mayor.
“In the coming ten to twenty years we should have the first list of potentially habitable planets in the Sun’s neighbourhood. Making such a list is essential before future experiments can search for possible spectroscopic signatures of life in the exoplanet atmospheres,” concludes Michel Mayor, who discovered the first-ever exoplanet around a normal star in 1995.
The thought seems to be that we’ll surely find a planet like Earth, but the reasoning process may be flawed.
Biology isn’t physics. What we think should exist may not happen to. Suppose we set out to find a native North American monkey. It makes sense. Many places on the continent are warm enough for monkeys. After a thorough search, we conclude that there just isn’t one. The same could be true of the coveted “planet that hosts life.” If solar systems can get on fine without any such thing (and they surely can), they may not exist. If we are not prepared to address that, it’s our problem, not the solar systems’.
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