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Among the bounty is a rare triple-planet system of “super-Earths” around the star HD 40307, about 42 light-years away in the constellation Pictor. The planets are roughly four, seven and nine times the mass of Earth and have orbital periods of 4, 10 and 20 days, respectively.
Dr. Mayor called the discoveries “only the tip of the iceberg” in a news release from the European Southern Observatory in Garching, Germany.
Theories of planet formation, Dr. Mayor said in an e-mail message from Nantes, hold that smaller planets like super-Earths and Neptunes should be numerous. “But evidently it was a nice surprise to see that with our instrument we have the sensitivity to detect that population,” he said.
Astronomers said the new results indicated that when their instruments got sensitive enough to detect even smaller planets, such planets would be there to be found.