Exoplanet count tops 300 with discovery of 'super-Earths'

Just a few decades ago, scientists wondered if anyone would be able to find planets orbiting other stars - much less ones that could support life.

Now, just 13 years after the discovery of the first planet orbiting a sun-like star, scientists have found more than 300 exoplanets, from char-broiled "hot Jupiters" that orbit their stars in a matter of days, to planets closer in size and composition to our own.

Within the past week, scientists have announced nine new exoplanet discoveries, including five "super-Earths" - small, possibly rocky planets just a few times larger than our own.

These miniature planets range in size from 4.2 to 22 times the mass of Earth and were found during a five-year survey by the European Southern Observatory telescope in Chile, which can observe how stars wobble back and forth as they are pulled by the gravity of the planets that orbit them.

None of the new exoplanets would make a good travel destination - they all orbit very close to their host stars and would be far too hot to support life as we know it.

Sill, the findings - along with 40 other possible "super-Earths" identified by the study -- suggest that exoplanets , including small ones like ours, are more common than originally thought.

Considering that scientists have been able to find this many planets with very limited tools, "you may well arrive at the conclusion that planets are ubiquitous," said the ESO's Stéphane Udry.

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