Are you looking for a change of scenery? Are you tired of boring old Earth?
How would you like a new home away from home? Really far away from home. Like outside our Solar System far. What exoplanet would suit us best? Are there any pros? And more importantly, what are the cons?
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What If is a mini-documentary web series that takes you on an epic journey through hypothetical worlds and possibilities. Join us on an imaginary adventure through time, space and chance while we (hopefully) boil down complex subjects in a fun and entertaining way.
From what this new exoplanet is, to what it could mean for our understanding of the universe as a whole, and more! Join us as we reveal to you the discovered two super-Earth exoplanets orbiting a star! (Gliese 887b And Gliese 887c)
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Humanity has a goal to explore the stars, a goal that may find itself getting a boost in feasibility by the end of the decade. But we also know that to look outside our solar system is important because we can learn even more from the planets and stars that range across the solar system and see how it reflects what is near us. To that end, one of our greatest goals is to find and research as many exoplanets (a planet which orbits a star outside the solar system) as we can and see what they are like and what we can learn from them. Which is good, because we just found a major discovery which might just change things forever.
Because looking at the brightest red dwarf star in the sky may have presented the best chance astronomers have yet to analyze the atmospheres of alien worlds — and perhaps detect whether those worlds have life. This is according to a new study that was recently released.
Scientists focused on the red dwarf star GJ 887, also known as Gliese 887. (Red dwarfs are the most common kind of star in the galaxy, and weigh between 7.5% and 50% the mass of the sun.) At a distance of about 10.7 light-years from Earth, Gliese 887 is the twelfth-closest star. Furthermore, at visible wavelengths, Gliese 887 is the brightest red dwarf in the sky, and with nearly half the sun’s mass, Gliese 887 is the heaviest red dwarf star within about 20 light-years of Earth. That may sound like a lot of needless stats but when it comes to stars you need to know as much about them to fully understand their power, potential, and lifespan.
Previous work found that many red dwarfs host planetary systems, ones usually made up of multiple small worlds. Still, “we’ve been looking for exoplanets orbiting Gliese 887 for nearly 20 years, and while we saw hints of a planetary signal, it wasn’t strong enough to convince ourselves that it was a planet,” study lead author Sandra Jeffers, an astrophysicist at the University of Göttingen in Germany, told Space.com.
But that has now changed in a major way.
Pressing forward, the researchers examined Gliese 887 for 80 nights in 2018. They relied on the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) instrument at La Silla Observatory in Chile, combining this data with archival measurements of the star spanning nearly two decades.
Astronomers use two strategies to discover most exoplanets, or worlds beyond our solar system. One method relies on how distant worlds regularly block out a fraction of light from their stars as they pass in front of their stars from the observer’s perspective. However, this method will only spot planets that pass through the line of sight between Earth and their stars, meaning it will only detect a small fraction of exoplanets.
Instead, the scientists in this latest work looked for any wobbles from Gliese 887 due to gravitational tugs from orbiting planets. This was where their breakthrough came from. They found the red dwarf has at least two “super-Earth” exoplanets, dubbed Gliese 887 b and Gliese 887 c. The former is about 4.2 times Earth’s mass and orbits just 6.8% of an astronomical unit (AU) from its star (one astronomical unit is the average distance between Earth and the sun), whereas the latter is about 7.6 times Earth’s mass and orbits 12% of an AU from the red dwarf.
To be honest, finding even one exoplanet there after two decades of finding nothing would’ve been momentous in its own right, but finding two? That is something truly special. And yet, that wasn’t all.
The researchers also found evidence for a possible third planet farther out from Gliese 887. Although the red dwarf’s two confirmed planets are likely too hot for life as we know it on Earth, this potential third planet might lie within the star’s habitable zone, where surface temperatures are suitable to host liquid water. Which by our definitions is important to have life, which is one of the many reasons we search for exoplanets so we can see if there’s another planet of life out there.