Habitable Planets: Gliese 667C's Super-Earths Could Support Life, Experts Say

Wednesday, 26 Jun 2013 08:11 AM

By Megan Anderle

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Gliese 667C, a well-studied star 22 light years from Earth, has a trio of super-Earth planets circling it that are potentially capable of supporting life.

Astronomers consider the trio to be the crown jewels of the planetary system because they lie in a habitable zone where temperature can support liquid water, according to the Los Angeles Times. The three super-Earths contain as many as seven planets.

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The system lies is 22 light-years away, in the constellation Scorpius, which is considered close to Earth compared to other stars.

"It is quite remarkable," said Mikko Tuomi, an astronomer at Britain's University of Hertfordshire and coauthor of the study set to be published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The super-Earths are tidally locked, always showing the same face as they orbit. One of the planets has a radius 1.8 times that of Earth and orbits its star in 28 Earth days. The other two planets are 1.5 times the Earth’s radius, while one orbits in 39 days and the other in 62 days, according to Space.com.

The researchers combined data from several powerful telescopes around the world to gather information on the planetary system, using a technique called radial velocity, according to the LA Times.

Two hotter planets reside too close to Gliese 667C's rays to support liquid water; two cooler planets lie too far away. Gliese 667C’s habitable zone lies very close in -- its inner rim is a tenth of the distance to Earth, and its outer rim still lies more than 5 million miles closer to the Sun than the closest point in Mercury’s orbit.

By contrast, the sun's habitable zone is much farther away, near Venus and Mars, so the fact that scientists have discovered that the three super-Earths could support life and is relatively close is notable. Also, Gliese 667C is smaller than our sun and only 1.4 percent as bright, according to Space.com.

Gliese 667C’s super-Earths are thought to be no more than 10 Earth masses, or roughly half the size of Neptune, Tuomi told the LA Times.

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