GENEVA - For Michel Mayor of the University of Geneva Observatory, it was an impressive list of achievements: his team managed to discover no less than 50 new exoplanets orbiting around another star than our sun, thanks to the HARPS spectrometer located at La Silla Observatory in Chile. Sixteen of these planets outside our galaxy are "super-Earths" -- exoplanets that possess masses one to 10 times larger than Earth. The 50 exoplanets swell the ranks of the 604 "other worlds" that have already been discovered.
Why is this discovery important? Francesco Pepe, from the Swiss team, says the bulk of new information can be applied to ongoing studies. "We can now safely say that about half the stars that are similar to our sun are surrounded by at least one super-Earth," Pepe explained.
His colleague Didier Queloz adds: "What we have here is a number of planetary systems that are very compact. Whereas our solar system isnt. And were trying to understand why."
With the discovery, Queloz says the so-called Nice model hypothesis is gaining traction. "Jupiter and Saturn, because they were moving in resonance (ed : in a synchronic way), have played a crucial role -- thanks to their respective masses-- in the way the planets of our solar system are organized today," Queloz says. But as of today, scientists still havent found a planetary system comparable to ours, nor have they yet discovered any "copy" of Earth, though that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. "There is so much background noise in the data we collect that it would take us years before obtaining anything reliable."
In order to hunt down "other Earths,", scientists will resort to more powerful telescopes, like the E-ELT (European Extremely Large Telescope) that is currently being built in Chile.
Read the original article in French
Photo - Lucianomendez