A POTENTIALLY habitable planet has been discovered by a team of scientists, including a Hatfield academic.

An international team of scientists came across the ‘super-Earth’, which orbits a nearby dwarf star, at the European Southern Observatory.

The planet, which is 22 light years away, could possibly have surface temperatures similar to Earth and perhaps be home to liquid water, according to the University of Hertfordshire’s Hugh Jones, who was in the discovery team.

The professor of astronomy at the College Lane uni said the new planet is expected to absorb about the same amount of energy from its star that the Earth absorbs from the Sun, which would allow for these conditions.

However, he added further study was still needed to uncover information about the planet’s atmosphere.

Professor Jones, who has been at the university for seven years, told the Welwyn Hatfield Times: “It was quite an exciting find.

“I think ever since we’ve started finding planets going around these stars there has been lots of things we didn’t expect to find.

“For instance this star system is nothing like ours, as it’s a triple star system.

“What makes this planet such an interesting find, is the distance it is away from its star which has enabled these conditions to be possible.”

Professor Jones’ team was led by Carnegie’s Guillem Anglada-Escud�.

They found the planet by measuring the small wobbles in a star’s orbit in response to a planet’s gravity, using the high resolution Echelle Spectrograph and the Carnegie Planet Finder Spectrograph at the Magellan II Telescope.

They discovered the super-Earth was orbiting an M-class red dwarf star in a ‘star-system’ called the GJ 667.

It is understood to have a different make-up from that of our Sun, lacking the metallic elements which are the building blocks of terrestrial planets.

This means habitable planets could form in a greater variety of environments than previously believed. They also uncovered another planet, which would be too hot to be habitable.