• A team of Spanish scientists leads the discovery of a dozen worlds that are candidates for hosting life

After four years of searching, more than 20,000 observations made and hundreds of stars analyzed with a magnifying glass, a team of spanish scientists announces the discovery of 59 new exoplanets in our stellar neighborhood. These are hitherto unknown worlds that orbit around other neighboring stars and that, according to the analyzes carried out to date, in at least a dozen cases would possibly be habitable. That is, they meet the conditions to host life. At least theoretically.

This surprising finding has been possible thanks to observations made from the Calar Alto Observatory, in Almería, by sciences from eleven Spanish and German scientific institutions. The center houses a state-of-the-art spectrograph known by the name of CARMENES that is capable of measuring both visible and infrared light from the objects it observes. The data collected by this instrument allow study with precision so far unheard of movement of the stars as the variations of its brightness and, from there, it can detect the presence of planets around it.

rocky worlds

The results of this meticulous analysis, published this Wednesday in the leading scientific journal ‘Astronomy and Astrophysics’point to the existence of a dozen earth-like planetsof rocky soil and climate, with the possibility of holding water on its surface and located in the so-called «habitable zone» of their star. As explained by the team of scientists that has led this discovery, the publication of this new (and expanded) map of exoplanets will allow the scientific community to deepen the study of each of these intriguing distant worlds to plug if any of them harbor signs of life.

«Since it came into operation, CARMENES has provided new data on 17 planets already known and has discovered and confirmed the existence of 59 new planets more in the neighborhood of our Solar System, definitely contributing to expanding the census of nearby exoplanets», comments Ignacio Ribasdirector of the Institut d’Estudis Espacials de Catalunya (IEEC) and first author of the article in which this impressive space discovery is presented.

«CARMENES has discovered and confirmed the existence of 59 new planets in the neighborhood of our Solar System»

Ignacio Ribas

planetary census

Since the Spanish spectrograph came into operation, back in 2016, the number of worlds discovered around nearby cold stars has doubled. Now we know twice as many exoplanets than just seven years ago. In addition, it is estimated that up to now CARMENES has already been able to practically observe the half of all the small stars close to our Solar System. Thanks to this, he stellar and planetary census of our neighborhood space has been expanded and completed with a hitherto unprecedented level of detail.

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But when will we have more information about the enigmatic worlds discovered by CARMENES? As explained by those responsible for the Spanish project, a complementary program has already been launched to continue studying the data captured by the Spanish spectrograph called CARMENES Legacy-Plus. «In order to determine the existence of planets around a star, we observe it a minimum of 50 times«, Explain Juan Carlos Morales, IEEC researcher at the Institute of Space Sciences (ICE-CSIC). The Spanish team calculates that it will carry out these complementary observations until at least the end of this year.

«In order to determine the existence of planets around a star, we observe it a minimum of 50 times»

Juan Carlos Morales

According to the latest spatial balances, so far about 5,000 planets have been discovered beyond our Solar System. These include rocky worlds, like our planet, gas giants similar to our Jupiter and miniature worlds similar to our Neptune. In this exciting search for distant planets, several candidates have been identified that, at least on paper, could meet the conditions to harbor life. The two best known are Proxima Centauri b (a planet orbiting the closest star to Earth) and TRAPPIST-1e (located in the constellation Aquarius). At the moment, the existence of life in none of them has yet been confirmed, but even so, the search continues.