An international team of researchers with participation from the University of Göttingen says it has discovered 59 new exoplanets in the past four years. A dozen of them are "potentially life-friendly," said the university on Wednesday. Exoplanets are planets orbiting a star outside of our solar system.
The researchers used the Carmenes instrument in Spain's Calar Alto Observatory for their observations. The device is an optical and near-infrared spectrograph, it can measure both visible and infrared light from objects. The instrument was installed in 2015 to find exoplanets near red dwarf stars — the most common type of star in the Milky Way.
"With this new method, Carmenes has reanalyzed 17 known planets and discovered and confirmed 59 new planets near our solar system since it went into operation," said Ignasi Ribas from the Institut d'Estudis Espacials de Catalunya. The project has doubled the number of known exoplanets.
The Institute for Astrophysics and Geophysics at the University of Göttingen is responsible for processing the data and calibrating the instrument. To evaluate the scientific data, the German Research Foundation (DFG) finances the research group "Blue Planets around Red Stars", which is coordinated in Göttingen.
"The scientific data from the Carmenes project provide insight into a world of planets that has so far remained hidden from us," said spokesman for the DFG research group, Ansgar Reiners. However, the focus of the scientists is also on the stars where the planets are located. In addition to the planetary discoveries, the researchers have learned a great deal about the physics of the stars, with the magnetic properties and their impact on the possible habitability of planets being particularly interesting.