Researchers discover planet five times size of Earth

An artistic representation of Gliese 832c in comparison to Earth. Photo supplied by the Planetary Habitability Laboratory @ UPR Arecibo
An artistic representation of Gliese 832c in comparison to Earth. Photo supplied by the Planetary Habitability Laboratory @ UPR Arecibo

TWO University of Southern Queensland researchers have played a major role in the discovery of a new planet a mere 16 light-years from Earth.

Gliese 832c is notable for being one of the most Earth-like planets discovered to date (in the top three) and, considering the size of the universe, could easily be considered a cosmic neighbour.

The USQ astronomers, Dr Brad Carter and Dr Jonti Horner, said Gliese 832c was unlikely to be a potential habitable world but was certainly a step in the right direction in finding one.

"Gliese 832c is more likely to have a similar atmosphere to Venus than Earth given the fact it's five times bigger than our planet," Dr Horner said.

"It's rather unlikely it could be inhabitable but to find a planet so similar to Earth's size at such a short distance away means we're coming even closer on our quest to find a potential new home.

"The planets we're finding are getting smaller and smaller and closer and closer to our solar system, who knows what the future holds?"

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Dr Carter and Dr Horner were part of a team of astronomers led by Rob Wittenmyer from the Anglo-Australian Planet Search team (based at the University of New South Wales).

"This planet took 15 years to discover and while we can't observe the planet visually, we can measure the 'wobble' the planet makes as it rotates around its host star, a red dwarf that is much smaller and cooler than our own sun," Dr Carter said.

"It's also a great feather in the cap of Australian astronomy and it's fantastic that USQ played a part in this discovery.

"It's not the holy grail of habitable planets we're hoping for but it's very encouraging and suggests there are even better candidates nearby."

The newly discovered planet is a neighbour of Gliese 832b which was discovered by the same team in 2009, with both planets orbiting the same star.

Despite doubts of the planet being able to support human life, out of the three most Earth-like worlds discovered it is the closest to our planet and quite possibly the most likely candidate discovered thus far.

Topics:  editors picks toowoomba university of southern queensland

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