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European team discovers 32 exoplanets

Astronomers have found 32 new planets outside the solar system, which they say adds evidence to the theory that the universe has many places where life could develop.

The discovery by the European team, which includes Geneva University astronomer Stéphane Udry, has increased the number of planets discovered outside the solar system to 400.

The planets found range from around five times the size of Earth to around five times the size of Jupiter.

Udry believes the latest findings support the theory that planet formation is widespread, especially for certain types of common star.

"I'm pretty confident that there are Earth-like planets everywhere," he said in an online news conference on Monday. "Nature doesn't like a vacuum. If there is space to put a planet there, there will be a planet there."

Geneva University astronomers in 1995 announced the discovery of 51 Pegasi b, the first exosolar planet found orbiting around a normal star.

Scientists currently believe that 40 per cent or more of Sun-like stars could have planets.

Researchers used a High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) spectrograph attached to a 3.6-metre telescope at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in La Silla, Chile.

The device does not take the planets' image directly, but scientists can calculate their size and mass by detecting tiny changes in a star's wobbling caused by a planet's small gravitational pull.

Astronomers are keen to find Earth-like planets as these are the most likely to harbour life. HARPS has spotted 75 planets circling 30 different stars. The ESO team did not give details of which stars the 32 new planets were circling.

swissinfo.ch and agencies


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