ScienceDaily (Sep. 12, 2011) The HARPS spectrograph on the 3.6-metre telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile is the world's most successful planet finder . The HARPS crew, led by Michel Mayor (University of Geneva, Switzerland), have declared the discovery of much more than fifty new exoplanets orbiting nearby stars, which includes sixteen super-Earths . This is the most significant number of such planets actually introduced at one time . The new findings are getting offered at a convention on Intense Solar Systems in which 350 exoplanet authorities are meeting in Wyoming, USA.
"The harvest of discoveries from HARPS has exceeded all expectations and contains an exceptionally prosperous inhabitants of super-Earths and Neptune-kind planets hosted by stars extremely comparable to our Sun. And even greater -- the new results show that the speed of discovery is accelerating," says Mayor.
In the 8 years since it started out surveying stars like the Sun employing the radial velocity method HARPS has been used to discover a lot more than a hundred and fifty new planets. About two thirds of all the identified exoplanets with masses much less than that of Neptune  were discovered by HARPS. These extraordinary outcomes are the fruit of many hundred nights of HARPS observations .
Working with HARPS observations of 376 Sun-like stars, astronomers have now also significantly improved the estimate of how probably it is that a star like the Sun is host to low-mass planets (as opposed to gaseous giants). They find that about 40% of this sort of stars have at least one planet significantly less massive than Saturn. The vast majority of exoplanets of Neptune mass or much less seem to be in systems with multiple planets.
With upgrades to both components and computer software systems in progress, HARPS is getting pushed to the up coming stage of stability and sensitivity to search for rocky planets that could support life. Ten nearby stars related to the Sun were picked for a new survey. These stars had presently been noticed by HARPS and are acknowledged to be suitable for very specific radial velocity measurements. After two years of work, the crew of astronomers has found 5 new planets with masses much less than five times that of Earth.
"These planets will be between the greatest targets for future space telescopes to look for symptoms of life in the planet's atmosphere by seeking for chemical signatures such as evidence of oxygen," explains Francesco Pepe (Geneva Observatory, Switzerland), the lead creator of one of the modern papers.
One of the recently declared freshly uncovered planets, Hd 85512 b, is believed to be only 3.6 times the mass of Earth  and is found at the edge of the habitable zone -- a slim zone around a star in which drinking water may possibly be present in liquid type if conditions are appropriate .
"This is the lowest-mass confirmed planet found by the radial velocity method that probably lies in the habitable zone of its star, and the 2nd very low-mass world discovered by HARPS within the habitable zone," provides Lisa Kaltenegger (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg, Germany and Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Boston, USA), who is an professional on the habitability of exoplanets.
The growing precision of the new HARPS survey now enables the detection of planets under two Earth masses. HARPS is now so vulnerable that it can detect radial velocity amplitudes of considerably a lot less than 4 km/hour  -- a lot less than strolling pace.
"The detection of High definition 85512 b is significantly from the restrict of HARPS and demonstrates the possibility of identifying other super-Earths in the habitable zones around stars similar to the Sun," provides Mayor.
These results make astronomers assured that they are close to finding other little rocky habitable planets about stars equivalent to our Sun. New instruments are prepared to even more this search. These include a duplicate of HARPS to be mounted on the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo in the Canary Islands, to survey stars in the northern sky, as properly as a new and far more highly effective planet-finder, named ESPRESSO, to be installed on ESO's Quite Significant Telescope in 2016 . Looking even more into the future also the CODEX instrument on the European Really Large Telescope (E-ELT) will push this approach to a larger level.
"In the coming 10 to twenty years we must have the first list of likely habitable planets in the Sun's neighbourhood. Making such a list is important just before potential experiments can search for possible spectroscopic signatures of life in the exoplanet atmospheres," concludes Michel Mayor, who discovered the first-ever exoplanet about a regular star in 1995 ( via sciencedaily.com ).