A super-Earth planet has been discovered near the habitable zone of a red dwarf star just 37 light-years from Earth. It is the first discovery of a new instrument on the Subaru Telescope and offers a chance to study the possibility of life on planets around nearby stars. With such a successful first result, we can expect the Subaru telescope to discover more, potentially even better, candidates for habitable planets around red dwarfs.
Red dwarfs, stars smaller than the Sun, make up three quarters of the stars in the Milky Way and are abundant in the vicinity around the Sun. As such, they are important targets in the search for nearby extrasolar planets and extraterrestrial life. But red dwarfs are cold and don’t emit much visible light compared to other types of stars, which makes studying them difficult.
In infrared wavelengths, red dwarfs are brighter. Thus, the Astrobiology Center in Japan has developed an infrared observation instrument mounted on the Subaru telescope to search for signs of planets around red dwarf stars. The instrument is called IRD for Infrared Doppler, the observation method used in this research.
The first fruits of this search are signs of a super-Earth four times more massive than Earth circling the star Ross 508, located 37 light-years away in the constellation Serpents. This planet, Ross 508 b, has a year of only 11 Earth days and lies at the inner edge of the habitable zone around its host star. Interestingly, there are indications that the orbit is elliptical, which would mean that for part of the orbit the planet would be in the habitable zone, the region where conditions would be conducive for water to exist. liquid on the surface of the planet. Whether or not there is water or life are matters for further investigation.
That the very first planet discovered by this new method is so close to the habitable zone seems too good to be true and bodes well for future discoveries. Bun’ei Sato, a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and principal investigator in this research comments, “It has been 14 years since IRD’s development began. We continued our development and research in hopes of finding a planet exactly like Ross 508 b.”
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Material provided by National Institutes of Natural Sciences. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.