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60 new plants found on galactic doorstep

Press Association logoPress Association 13/02/2017 Sally Wardle

Astronomers have discovered 60 new planets orbiting stars near the Earth's solar system.

The team of international scientists, which include Dr Mikko Tuomi of the University of Hertfordshire, also found evidence of a further 54 planets - bringing the total number of potential new worlds to 114.

A hot "super-Earth" with a rocky surface located in the fourth nearest star system to the sun was among the extrasolar planets discovered.

Researchers said the planet - named Gliese 411b - demonstrates that "virtually all" the nearest stars to the sun have planets orbiting them and some of these "could be like Earth".

The results are based on almost 61,000 individual observations of 1,600 stars taken over a 20-year period by US astronomers using the Keck-I telescope in Hawaii.

The observations were part of the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey, which was started in 1996 by astronomers Steve Vogt and Geoffrey Marcy from the University of California and Paul Butler, from the Carnegie Institute of Science, in Washington.

Dr Tuomi, who was the only European-based researcher working on the project and led analysis of the data, said: "It is fascinating to think that when we look at the nearest stars, all of them appear to have planets orbiting them.

"This is something astronomers were not convinced about, even as little as five years ago.

"These new planets also help us better understand the formation processes of planetary systems and provide interesting targets for future efforts to image the planets directly."

Dr Butler said: "This paper and data release is one of my crowning achievements as an astronomer. It represents a good chunk of my life's work."

The group's paper has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.

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