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Subject: Bad News for Pluto Fans Date: 3/28/2012 1:12 PM
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There could be many billions of planets not much bigger than Earth circling faint stars in our galaxy, says an international team of astronomers.

The estimate for the number of "super-Earths" is based on detections already made and then extrapolated to include the Milky Way's population of so-called red dwarf stars.

The team works with the high-precision Harps instrument.

This is fitted to the 3.6m telescope at the Silla Observatory in Chile.

Harps employs an indirect method of detection that infers the existence of orbiting planets from the way their gravity makes a parent star appear to twitch in its motion across the sky.

"Our new observations with Harps mean that about 40% of all red dwarf stars have a super-Earth orbiting in the habitable zone where liquid water can exist on the surface of the planet," said team leader Xavier Bonfils from the Observatoire des Sciences de l'Univers de Grenoble, France.

"Because red dwarfs are so common - there are about 160 billion of them in the Milky Way - this leads us to the astonishing result that there are tens of billions of these planets in our galaxy alone."




http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17532470
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