Super earth may be habitable
This artist's impression shows HD40307g in the foreground, with its host star HD40307 and two other planets in the system. Photo: J Pinmfield/Ropacs

Scientists have discovered a ‘super-earth’ which could have a life-supporting climate.

The planet lies in a multi-world solar system 42 light years from the sun and is seven times the size of earth.

Previously, the orange star HD 40307 was believed to host three planets, reports the BBC.

All three planets were too close to the star to support liquid water but this newly-discovered ‘super earth’ is far enough away to support liquid water, according to research to appear in Astronomy and Astrophysics.

University of Hertfordshire professor Hugh Jones said the planet's 197-day year means its climate might be sufficient for life.

"The longer orbit of the new planet means that its climate and atmosphere may be just right to support life," said Jones.

"This planet - or indeed any moons that it has - lie on an orbit comparable to Earth, increasing the probability of it being habitable."

It is, of course, too early to confirm any other similarities but the discovery will give hope to scientists of discovering other exoplanets – ‘super-earths’ circling sun-like stars.

Current telescopes are of course not strong enough to directly observe the planet, but the hope is a future generation of telescopes at some point may be powerful enough, with David Pincher, another researcher at the University saying the planet is a ‘natural target for the next generation of large telescopes, both on the ground and in space’.

The scientific team used the Harps instrument at the La Sill facility in Chile to make the discovery.

Harps does not directly spot planets but instead detects slight changes in colour of a stars’ light.

"We pioneered new data analysis techniques including the use of the wavelength as a filter to reduce the influence of activity on the signal from this star," said University of Hertfordshire researcher and lead author of the paper Mikko Tuomi.

Picture gallery: The wonders of outer space

"This significantly increased our sensitivity and enabled us to reveal three new super-Earth planets around the star known as HD 40307, making it into a six-planet system."

Last month, scientists discovered the nearest planet outside our solar system, just four light years away.

However, the planet, which circles the Alpha Centurai star, is outside the habitable zone – too close to the star – and incapable of supporting life.

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