HD 85512b -- Portrait of a Super-Earth: Big Pics

Artist's impression shows HD 85512b, an exoplanet orbiting the sun-like star HD 85512 in the southern constellation of Vela.
ESO

Sept. 12, 2011 — Drawing comparisons between our planet and worlds orbiting other stars can be misleadingor even controversial — but more often than not, exoplanet-hunting scientists are simply trying to put these alien worlds into perspective.

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Whether NASA's Kepler space telescope has spotted an exoplanet's shadow, or ESO's High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) has spotted the wobble of a star caused by the gravity of an orbiting world, very few details about these exoplanets present themselves.

Let's face it, a world called "HD 85512b," with a mass of 3.6 Earths, and an orbital period of 54 days hardly evokes thoughts of anything even vaguely familiar to our planet. But with these few characteristics, astronomers using HARPS have deduced that although it's more massive than Earth, HD 85512b has a few potentially Earth-like qualities.

SLIDE SHOW: Top Exoplanets for Alien Life

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