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Astronomers from several countries discovered from Almeria, Spain, a new solar system with two planets such as Earth at 12.5 light years,” around the corner in astronomical terms,” according to the Spanish newspaper El País.
The new planetary system orbits Teegarden, a red dwarf star much smaller and fainter than the Sun. Both planets are very close to their star, so the temperature is relatively warm. There could be liquid water on its surface, a fundamental condition for housing life.
“We are facing two of the habitable exoplanets closest to Earth, the only closest would be Próxima b, which is 4.5 light years away”, highlights Ignasi Ribas, director of the Institute of Space Sciences(IEEC-CSIC) and one of the main authors of the discovery.
Almost 200 astronomers from 11 countries sign the finding, for which “240 observations” were needed for three years with the Carmenes instrument -name that it receives by its acronym in English- at the astronomical observatory of Calar Alto (Almería), in Andalusia , Spain, and other complementary facilities of smaller size.
The two new exoplanets, Teegarden B and C, are 1.25 and 1.33 times larger than Earth, respectively.
The report, published in Astronomy and Astrophysics and reviewed by the Spanish newspaper, indicates that the two orbit very close to their star, so they complete a return – a terrestrial year – in five and 11 days, respectively. Both are in the so-called habitable zone, although it is planet C that has more apt characteristics.
According to Ribas, these two new worlds have as many possibilities to house life as the two main candidates known so far in the vicinity of our solar system, Próxima B, announced in August 2016, and two of the seven planets discovered in February 2017 around Trappist-1, 40 light years away. All three systems have red dwarfs as the center.
The finding supposes a support for the team of the Almeria observatory, which despite being the largest in continental Europe has suffered major budget cuts a few years ago.
“It is a clear and resounding discovery,” says Didier Queloz, co-discoverer of the first planet outside the solar system in 1995, adding: “It is amazing to think that only 25 years ago this field did not exist and now we are serious about finding life in others. planets.”
The astrophysicist believes that the Trappist system, which he co-discovered, remains “unique”, because it is the only one in which there is the possibility of using the James Webb Space Telescope, which is launched in 2021, and find out more about the planets in this star.
In Teegarden, on the other hand, it will be necessary to wait until the arrival of the new generation of giant telescopes that will start operating in the middle of the next decade.
The red dwarfs spit bursts of radiation that can eliminate the atmospheres of these planets and annihilate the life that may be in them. This problem has already been detected in Proxima B, as revealed by a recent study by the team of Meredith MacGregor, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science (USA).
In Teegarden no bursts have been captured, which now presents a more benevolent environment for life. But the Carmenes instrument, specialized in capturing red and infrared light, can not see if they have an atmosphere, which is essential for them to have a greenhouse effect that tempers temperatures and protects life from radiation.
“The definition of habitable is constantly evolving as observation techniques advance,” explains MacGregor.
“Initially the habitable zone was the distance from a planet to its star where there was a sufficient equilibrium temperature to have liquid water on the surface, we have found many terrestrial planets of this type, but clearly there are other factors to know if a planet It is really like Earth, for example if it has an atmosphere, plate tectonics, a magnetic field, we need the new generation of new astronomical facilities to answer these questions, “adds the astronomer.
According to the study, Teegarden was formed about 9,000 million years ago, twice as long as our solar system. There was twice as much time to light an intelligent civilization. From Teegarden’s point of view, our solar system is now passing in front of the Sun. “If there are teegardians,” explain the scientists’ conclusions,” they could observe the Earth transiting in front of the Sun between 2044 and 2496.”