In search for life, more planet 'candidates' are found. Are any just right?
The stars Kepler looks at are roughly 600 to 3,000 light-years away.
That is why other teams are looking much closer to home.
A group using a planet-hunting spectrometer bolted to the back of a telescope at the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Observatory in Chile reported at the same conference finding a super Earth orbiting just inside the inner edge of the habitable zone of a star labeled HD 85512. It is in the constellation Vela some 6.2 light-years from the sun.
The planet, with 3.6 times Earth's mass, orbits the star once every 58 days. By comparison, Mercury orbits the sun once every 88 days.
The team detected the planet with a technique that uses the wobble in a star's spectrum to track the planet's gravitational tug on its sun. The discovery was part of a project to see if upgrades to the spectrometer they are using, dubbed HARP, was up to the task of detecting planets with masses comparable to Earth's in the habitable zones of near-by stars.
The planet has the lowest mass of any yet detected in a star's habitable zone, according to Lisa Kaltenegger, a planetary scientist who divides her time between the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass.