Washington, October 20 (ANI): With help from the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), scientists have reported the discovery of 32 new exoplanets.
"HARPS is a unique, extremely high precision instrument that is ideal for discovering alien worlds," said Stephane Udry, the scientist who made the announcement.
"We have now completed our initial five-year programme, which has succeeded well beyond our expectations," she added.
The latest batch of exoplanets announced comprises no less than 32 new discoveries.
Including these new results, data from HARPS have led to the discovery of more than 75 exoplanets in 30 different planetary systems.
In particular, thanks to its amazing precision, the search for small planets, those with a mass of a few times that of the Earth - known as super-Earths and Neptune-like planets - has been given a dramatic boost.
HARPS has facilitated the discovery of 24 of the 28 planets known with masses below 20 Earth masses.
As with the previously detected super-Earths, most of the new low-mass candidates reside in multi-planet systems, with up to five planets per system.
"These observations have given astronomers a great insight into the diversity of planetary systems and help us understand how they can form," said team member Nuno Santos.
HARPS was installed in 2003 and was soon able to measure the back-and-forward motions of stars by detecting small changes in a star's radial velocity - as small as 3.5 km/hour, a steady walking pace.
Such a precision is crucial for the discovery of exoplanets and the radial velocity method, which detects small changes in the radial velocity of a star as it wobbles slightly under the gentle gravitational pull from an (unseen) exoplanet, has been most prolific method in the search for exoplanets.
In return for building the instrument, the HARPS consortium was granted 100 observing nights per year during a five-year period to carry out one of the most ambitious systematic searches for exoplanets so far implemented worldwide by repeatedly measuring the radial velocities of hundreds of stars that may harbour planetary systems.
"By targeting M dwarfs and harnessing the precision of HARPS we have been able to search for exoplanets in the mass and temperature regime of super-Earths, some even close to or inside the habitable zone around the star," said co-author Xavier Bonfils. (ANI)