European astronomers announced on Monday that they have found 50 new planets outside our solar system, including 16 so-called super-Earths that could potentially support life.
The scientists who made the discovery used the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), also known as The Planet Hunter, at the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) location in La Silla, Chile.
The newly found hauls of 16 super-Earths are potentially rocky worlds that are more massive than our planet.
Among these16 super-Earths, the one particular planet, called HD85512b, has captured astronomers' attention because it orbits a star about 35 light-years from Earth in the constellation Vela, according to ESO press release.
Scientists believe there is a slim possibility that it occupies the so-called Goldilocks zone, a term used to refer to planets that are neither too hot nor too cold to support liquid water.
This is the second planet discovered outside the solar system that could potentially support terrestrial life. The first one, called Gliese581d, was discovered in 2007.
If we are really, really lucky, this planet could be a habitat comparable to Earth, said Study author Lisa Kaltenegger, an astronomer with the Max Planck Institute in Germany.
It's going to be really muggy, just think about the muggiest (Washington) day you can think of. We're not saying it's habitable for you and me, Kaltenegger said.
The new planet is about 3.6 times the mass of Earth and is closer to its star than the Earth is to our sun, completing a full orbit every 60 days, but its star is about 1,800 degrees cooler than our sun.
The temperatures in the planet are estimated to range from 30 to 50 Celsius and anyone in the planet would feel very warm and it hasn't been determined yet whether the planet is rocky like Earth or made of gas like Jupiter. For it to support life it would need to be rocky, instead of being gas-based like Jupiter, and would need enough cloud cover from its atmosphere to keep the surface cool.
In addition to the potential Goldilocks planet, astronomers deduced the existence of 50 other planets by noticing a slight wobble in stars that indicated an orbiting planet's gravitational pull. 16 of those planets appeared to be composed of rocks rather than gas.
Scientists anticipate the number will become higher after planet-candidates are confirmed to be planets. There are more than 1,200 candidates that were discovered by NASA's Kepler space observatory in California, SPACE.com reported.
The next big milestone should be 1,000, chief scientist of NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California Wesley Traub told SPACE.com.
We are learning that there are so many planets out there, and many stars have multiple planets around then, that it's just a question of time until we get to that 1,000 mark of confirmed planets.