Telescope helps ID 50 more exoplanets

Sept. 12, 2011 at 8:03 PM
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MUNICH, Germany, Sept. 12 (UPI) -- Astronomers using a telescope in Chile equipped with a spectrograph have discovered more than 50 new exoplanets, the largest find ever announced at one time.

The HARPS spectrograph at the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Observatory is the world's most successful planet finder, having located more than 150 exoplanets in eight years, a release from ESO headquarters in Munich, Germany, said Monday.

"The harvest of discoveries from HARPS has exceeded all expectations and includes an exceptionally rich population of super-Earths and Neptune-type planets hosted by stars very similar to our sun," HARPS team leader Michel Mayor of the University of Geneva, Switzerland, said.

"And even better -- the new results show that the pace of discovery is accelerating," Mayor said.

Working with HARPS observations, astronomers have been able to improve their estimates of how likely it is a star like the sun is host to low-mass planets, the so-called super-Earths, than to gaseous giants.

"These planets will be among the best targets for future space telescopes to look for signs of life in the planet's atmosphere by looking for chemical signatures such as evidence of oxygen," Francesco Pepe of the Observatory of Geneva.

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