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A new analysis of twenty years’ worth of data gathered by the HIRES (High-Resolution Echelle Spectrometer) instrument which is located at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii has uncovered sixty new exoplanets which astronomers believe might be capable of hosting life. The researchers have also found fifty-four other planets which may also be viable candidates for being hospitable to life, but these planets require further investigation before they can be given candidate status.
HIRES identifies sixty new exoplanets – and there may be much more
Perhaps the most exciting official candidate is an exoplanet in the orbit of star GJ 411 (also known as Lalande 21185) which is only 8.3 light years away from the sun in the center of this solar. At this current time, scientists are not sure whether this planet is a genuine alien world as it might be too hot to host life. The planet lies very close to the sun in the center of its solar system and only takes ten days to complete an entire orbit of its sun.
Stephen Vogt, of the University of California in Santa Cruz, was the original inventor of the HIRES system. Speaking about the new discoveries, he said that this was not what his design was initially intended to do and yet it has proven to be something of a ‘powerhouse’ when it comes to the identification of exoplanets. For his part, Vogt is delighted that his design has contributed so much to the world’s bank of scientific knowledge.
HIRES detects exoplanets in a fairly unique way – what is referred to as the radial velocity method. The HIRES instrument detects minute gravitational fluctuations that are orbiting worlds cause to their suns. This method is very different to NASA’s technique. NASA use the Kepler space telescope to watch for dips in brightness when a planet crosses the face of its sun to identify exoplanets. This is referred to as the ‘transit method.’
Given the success of both HIRES and NASA over the years in finding exoplanets, some scientists are suggesting that the techniques should be merged to improve the accuracy of their detections. “The best way to advance the field and further our understanding of what these planets are made out of is to harness the abilities of a variety of precision radial velocity instruments, and deploy them in concert, “study team member Jennifer Burt, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. However, she was not particularly confident that this would happen shortly, as there is a strong tradition of academic separatism in this particular field and no particular will for cooperation across institutions.