59 New Planets Discovered in Our Neighborhood

An artist’s concept of a high-resolution image of an Earth-size planet in the cool range of the habitable zone of a nearby M dwarf. © José A. Caballero (CAB, CSIC-INTA), Javier Bollaín (Render Area)

The hunt for habitable extrasolar planets continues! Thanks to dedicated missions like Kepler, TESS, and Hubble, the number of confirmed extrasolar planets has exploded in the past fifteen years (with 5,272 confirmed and counting!). At the same time, next-generation telescopes, spectrometers, and advanced imaging techniques are allowing astronomers to study exoplanet atmospheres more closely. In short, the field is shifting from the process of discovery to characterization, allowing astronomers to more tightly constraint habitability.

Finding potentially-habitable “Earth-like” planets around these fainter stars is the purpose of the Calar Alto high-Resolution search for M dwarfs with Exoearths with Near-infrared and optical Echelle Spectrographs (CARMENES), located at the Calar Alto Observatory in Spain. In a study that appeared in Astronomy & Astrophysics today, the CARMENES Consortium published data (Data Release 1) data from about 20,000 observations taken between 2016 and 2020. Among the measurements obtained from 362 nearby cool stars, the DR1 contained data on 59 new planets.

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Gliese 486b is a Hellish World With Temperatures Above 700 Kelvin

Credit and ©: MPIA/RenderArea

In the past two and a half decades, astronomers have confirmed the existence of thousands of exoplanets. In recent years, thanks to improvements in instrumentation and methodology, the process has slowly been shifting from the process of discovery to that of characterization. In particular, astronomers are hoping to obtain spectra from exoplanet atmospheres that would indicate their chemical composition.

This is no easy task since direct imaging is very difficult, and the only other method is to conduct observations during transits. However, astronomers of the CARMENES consortium recently reported the discovery of a hot rocky super-Earth orbiting the nearby red dwarf star. While being extremely hot, this planet has retained part of its original atmosphere, which makes it uniquely suited for observations using next-generation telescopes.

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A Red Dwarf Star Has a Jupiter-Like Planet. So Massive it Shouldn’t Exist, and Yet, There It Is

Artist's illustration of the newfound gas-giant planet GJ 3512b, which circles a red dwarf star. (Image credit: Guillem Anglada-Escude—IEEC/Science-wave, using SpaceEngine.org (CC BY 4.0))

Thanks to the Kepler mission and other efforts to find exoplanets, we’ve learned a lot about the exoplanet population. We know that we’re likely to find super-Earths and Neptune-mass exoplanets orbiting low-mass stars, while larger planets are found around more massive stars. This lines up well with the core accretion theory of planetary formation.

But not all of our observations comply with that theory. The discovery of a Jupiter-like planet orbiting a small red dwarf means our understanding of planetary formation might not be as clear as we thought. A second theory of planetary formation, called the disk instability theory, might explain this surprising discovery.

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Two Earth-Like Worlds Found Orbiting a Red Dwarf Only 12.5 Light-Years Away

Artistic recreation of the Teegarden Star system. Credit: University of Göttingen

In the past few decades, there has been an explosion in the number of planets discovered beyond our Solar System. With over 4,000 confirmed exoplanets to date, the process has gradually shifted from discovery towards characterization. This consists of using refined techniques to determine just how likely a planet is to be habitable.

At the same time, astronomers continue to make discoveries regularly, some of which are right in our cosmic backyard. For instance, an international team of researchers recently detected two new Earth-like planets orbiting Teegarden’s Star, an M-type (red dwarf) star located just 12.5 light-years from the Solar System in the direction of the Aries constellation.

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Super Earth Planet Found Around One of the Closest Stars to us. But it’s Probably a Terrible Place to Live

The nearest single star to the Sun hosts an exoplanet at least 3.2 times as massive as Earth — a so-called super-Earth. Data from a worldwide array of telescopes, including ESO’s planet-hunting HARPS instrument, have revealed this frozen, dimly lit world. The newly discovered planet is the second-closest known exoplanet to the Earth and orbits the fastest moving star in the night sky. This image shows an artist’s impression of the planet’s surface. Credit: ESO

In the course of searching for extra-solar planets, some very interesting finds have been made. Some of them have even occurred within our own galactic neighborhood. Just two years ago, astronomers from the Red Dots and CARMENES campaigns announced the discovery of Proxima b, a rocky planet that orbits within the habitable zone of our nearest stellar neighbor – Proxima Centauri.

This rocky world, which may be habitable, remains the closest exoplanet ever discovered to our Solar System. A few days ago (on Nov. 14th), Red Dots and CARMENES announced another find: a rocky planet orbiting Barnard’s star, which is just 6 light years from Earth. This planet, Barnard’s Star b, is now the second closest exoplanet to our Solar System, and the closest planet to orbit a single star.

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