Scientists have confirmed the existence of a potentially habitable planet that has been an object of significant skepticism.
A report published in the journal Science claimed the supposed super-Earth was actually just "stellar activity masquerading as planets," but new findings refute those claims, Queen Mary University of London reported. The planet is now believed to exist, and orbit within the "Goldilocks" habitable zone of its parent star.
"The existence (or not) of GJ 581d is significant because it was the first Earth-like planet discovered in the 'Goldilocks'-zone around another star and it is a benchmark case for the Doppler technique," said Guillem Anglada-Escudé, lead author of the paper.
Researchers claim they are "confident" the planet, dubbed GJ 581d, is real. The team believes the previous claims that the planet is nothing more than an illusion were based off of a poor data analysis. The planet candidate was spotted back in 2009 orbiting the star Gliese 581 by a spectrometer. In 2014 a team of researchers took a second look at the data, and concluded the "planet" was nothing more than noise in the data caused by starspots.
The past conclusion was made through a statistical technique that accounts for stellar activity; the method has been successful in identifying large planets in the past, but the researchers who were a part of the newest study claim it is inadequate for determining the existence of smaller planets like GJ 581d. In the recent analysis, the scientists used what they believed was a more accurate model to look at the existing data, and concluded the signal of GJ 581d belongs to a very real super-Earth.
"There are always discussions among scientists about the ways we interpret data but I'm confident that GJ 581d has been in orbit around Gliese 581 all along. In any case, the strength of their statement was way too strong. If they way to treat the data had been right, then some planet search projects at several ground-based observatories would need to be significantly revised as they are all aiming to detect even smaller planets. One needs to be more careful with these kind of claims," Guillem Anglada-Escudé reported.
The findings were published in a recent edition of the journal Science.