Astronomers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered a multi-planet system in our own galactic neighborhood. It is only 10 parsecs, or 33 lightyears, away from our own solar system, making it one of the closest systems to our own.
Discoverers dubbed the small and cool M-dwarf star at the center of the system HD260655. The system hosts at least two planets, which are rocky and about the size of Earth. They orbit too close to their sun to host life, as the temperature would be too high for water to exist. However, their proximity to their star gives scientists here on Earth enough light to study their atmospheres and surfaces.
“Both planets in this system are each considered among the best targets for atmospheric study because of the brightness of their star,” says Michelle Kunimoto, a postdoc in MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research and one of the discovery’s lead scientists. “Is there a volatile-rich atmosphere around these planets? And are there signs of water or carbon-based species? These planets are fantastic test beds for those explorations.”
The researchers estimate that the surface temperature of the inner planet is 818 degrees Fahrenheit and the outer planet is 548 degrees Fahrenheit.
“We consider that range outside the habitable zone, too hot for liquid water to exist on the surface,” Kunimoto says.
“But there might be more planets in the system,” Shporer adds. “There are many multiplanet systems hosting five or six planets, especially around small stars like this one. Hopefully, we will find more, and one might be in the habitable zone. That’s optimistic thinking.”