On September 12, 2011, a team of scientists announced that the HARPS telescope has identified more than 50 new planets; this is the largest number of planets ever announced at once.
The HARPS telescope works by detecting the movement of stars. A star with an orbiting planet will be pulled towards the planet as it orbits. If the star moves toward and away from Earth, this movement can be detected and planets can be discovered.
Astronomers have pointed HARPS at 376 Sun-like stars, and over the past eight years, they have discovered more than 150 new planets. At least one of the newly-discovered planets is potentially habitable; HD85512b is estimated to be only 3.6 times the mass of Earth and it orbits its star within a zone in which liquid water could exist.
The increasing precision of the new HARPS survey now allows the detection of planets under two Earth masses. HARPS is now so sensitive that it can detect radial velocity amplitudes of significantly less than 4 km/hour– less than walking speed.
“The detection of HD 85512 b is far from the limit of HARPS and demonstrates the possibility of discovering other super-Earths in the habitable zones around stars similar to the Sun,” adds Michel Mayor, of the University of Geneva, Switzerland.
This is just the beginning for finding Earth-like planets around other stars!
Learn more about planet hunting in the High-Adventure Science space investigation.