In the hunt for life outside Earth, researchers have discovered 60 new planets orbiting stars near our solar system.
Among the new planets is a hot 'super-Earth', called Gliese 411b, which has a rocky surface and is located in the fourth nearest star system to the sun.
Researchers say that the planet demonstrates that 'virtually all' the nearest stars to the sun have planets orbiting them, and some of these 'could be like Earth.'
Of the new planets discovered, researchers say that one – Gliese 411b – stands out.
Gliese 411b is a hot super-Earth with a rocky surface located in the fourth nearest star system to the sun, making it the third nearest planetary system to the sun.
The group's paper has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.
The significance of its discovery demonstrates that virtually all the nearest stars to the sun have planets orbiting them.
The discovery was made by an international team of researchers, led by the University of Hertfordshire.
Along with the 60 new planets, the researchers found additional evidence of a further 54 planets, bringing the total number of potential new worlds to 114.
The results are based on almost 61,000 individual observations of 1,600 stars taken over a 20-year period by United States (U.S.) astronomers using the Keck-I telescope in Hawaii.
The observations were part of the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey, which was started in 1996 by astronomers Steve Vogt and Geoffrey Marcy from the University of California and Paul Butler, from the Carnegie Institute of Science, in Washington.
Dr. Mikko Tuomi, who led the study, said: “It is fascinating to think that when we look at the nearest stars, all of them appear to have planets orbiting them. This is something astronomers were not convinced about, even as little as five years ago.
“These new planets also help us better understand the formation processes of planetary systems and provide interesting targets for future efforts to image the planets directly.”
Butler added: “This paper and data release is one of my crowning achievements as an astronomer. It represents a good chunk of my life's work.”
The team is hoping their decision will lead to a flurry of new science, as astronomers around the globe combine the HIRES data with their own existing observations, or mount new observing campaigns to follow up on potential signals.
The catalog release is part of a growing trend in exoplanet science to broaden the audience and discovery space, which has emerged in part to handle the aftermath of follow-up discoveries by NASA's Kepler and K2 missions.