Image: The darker area is the orbital region that remains continuously habitable during at least 5 Gyr as a function of the stellar mass (Selsis et al. 2007). The light grey region gives the theoretical inner (runaway greenhouse) and outer limits with 50% cloudiness, with H2O and CO2 clouds, respectively. The dotted boundaries correspond to the extreme theoretical limits, found with a 100% cloud cover. The dashed line indicates the distance at which a 1 M? planet on a circular orbit becomes tidally locked in less than 1 Gyr. Credit: Philip Gregory.

Tightly Spaced Habitable Zone Candidates

by PAUL GILSTER on DECEMBER 20, 2012

We saw yesterday how a newly refined radial velocity technique allowed researchers to identify five planet candidates around the nearby star Tau Ceti. The latter has long held fascination for the exoplanet minded because it’s a G-class star not all that different from the Sun, and one of the planets around it — if confirmed — appears to be in its habitable zone. But smaller stars remain much in the news as well, as witness Gl 667C, a red dwarf (M-class) star in a triple system that also contains two closely spaced K-class stars with a semimajor axis of 1.82 AU.

M-class stars offer a lot to planet hunters, as new work using the HARPS spectrograph at La Silla is making clear. For one thing, a planet of a given size induces more radial velocity variation around a low-mass star than around a larger one, making the planet easier to spot. For another, red dwarfs are dimmer than G and K-class stars, with a habitable zone much closer to the star. Here again we get a larger radial velocity wobble than we would find with a larger star.

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