An artist’s impression of the GJ 887 planetary system of super Earths. (Mark Garlick)
From the perspective of planet hunters and planet characterizers, a desirable solar system to explore is one that is close to ours, that has a planet (or planets) in the star’s habitable zone, and has a host star that is relatively quiet. This is especially important with the very common red dwarf stars, which are far less luminous than stars such as our sun but tend to send out many more powerful — and potentially planet sterilizing — solar flares.
The prolific members of the mostly European and Chilean Red Dots astronomy team believe they have found such a system about 11 light years away from us. The system — GJ 887 — has an unusually quiet red dwarf host, has two planets for sure and another likely that orbits at a life-friendly 50-day orbit. It is the 12th closest planetary system to our sun.
It is that potential third planet, which has shown up in some observations but not others, that would be of great interest. Because it is so (relatively) close to Earth, it would be a planet where the chemical and thermal make-up ...