ResearchCARMENES Project: Potentially Habitable Exoplanets

11 October 2023

Observations from 2016 to 2020 published – A dozen planets that could sustain life

With the aid of the CARMENES spectrograph, a German-Spanish research team led by scientists from Heidelberg University has discovered heretofore unknown exoplanets that could potentially sustain life. The findings were made possible based on data from approximately 20,000 observations recorded between 2016 and 2020 at the Calar Alto Observatory at Almería (Spain) published this year. Life is potentially feasible on a dozen of the 59 newly discovered exoplanets. They are located in the “habitable zone” of their star and could have liquid water on their surface.

planets discovered using CARMENES

Thanks to CARMENES, the number of known exoplanets around nearby cool stars – so-called red dwarves – has doubled, reports Prof. Dr Andreas Quirrenbach. “Not least, the publication of this initial large dataset enables other researchers to analyse the data,” stresses Prof. Quirrenbach, project lead and director of the Königstuhl state observatory, which is part of the Centre for Astronomy of Heidelberg University (ZAH). 

Dr Jonas Kemmer studied two of the exoplanets for his dissertation at the ZAH. His investigations are based on measurements of NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which led to the discovery of the planets’ existence. “We were able to determine their radius using this data. CARMENES then allowed us to determine the density of these planets, which is very similar to that of Earth. These planets are probably made up of a similar rock material as our home planet,” states Dr Kemmer.

The CARMENES instrument was developed by a German-Spanish consortium under the direction of the Königstuhl state observatory and began operation in 2015 at the Calar Alto Observatory. The purpose of CARMENES is to search for earth-like exoplanets that revolve around nearby red dwarf stars. The project was extended in 2021 through at least the end of 2023 as CARMENES Legacy-Plus. According to Prof. Quirrenbach, the observations will likely lead to even more discoveries. Above all, they are expected to statistically better measure the frequency of planetary systems.

Approximately 100 researchers from more than 30 research centres contributed to the study, including 14 from the Königstuhl state observatory. A publication in the journal “Astronomy & Astrophysics” provides an overview of the data products as well as previous CARMENES discoveries.

Original publication

I. Ribas et al.: The CARMENES search for exoplanets around M dwarfs. Guaranteed Time Observations Data Release 1 (2016-2020). Astronomy & Astrophysics.