Astronomers and their eagle-eyed telescopes have spotted a pair of super-Earth planets just 11 light-years away around the red dwarf star Gliese 887, or GJ 887. A third, unconfirmed planet may orbit the star, too.
The newly discovered exoplanets, GJ887b and GJ887c, are so-called super-Earths, meaning their size ranks roughly between our planet and Neptune.
To get a better look at the system, the team used the European Southern Observatory’s HARPS spectrograph in Chile. Astronomers are able to spot the exoplanets using a technique called the doppler wobble.
The gravitational pull of circling exoplanets tugs on a star, causing it to wobble, and astronomers can pick up on these tiny motions. These scientists confirmed their findings by analyzing 20 years of archival data and published their work June 26 in the journal Science.
GJ 887 is the 12th closest planetary system to Earth, according to NASA. The recently discovered planets around it lie just outside the habitable zone, where liquid water—not water vapor or ice—could exist on the surface of a rocky world. Astronomers believe worlds that lie within this region could potentially house life.
Read more: Popular Mechanics