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Astronomers discover 114 new planets

An artist's impression of hot super-Earth, Gliese 411b. Credit: University of Hertfordshire/PA

Astronomers have discovered 114 new planets, 60 of which are orbiting stars near the Earth's solar system.

A hot "super-Earth" with a rocky surface located in the fourth nearest star system to the Sun was among the extrasolar planets discovered.

Researchers said the planet - named Gliese 411b - demonstrates that "virtually all" the nearest stars to the sun have planets orbiting them and some of these "could be like Earth".

The results are based on almost 61,000 individual observations of 1,600 stars taken over a 20-year period by US astronomers using the Keck-I telescope - one of the world's largest - in Hawaii.

The observations were part of the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey, which was started in 1996 by astronomers Steve Vogt and Geoffrey Marcy from the University of California and Paul Butler, from the Carnegie Institute of Science, in Washington.

Dr Mikko Tuomi, of the University of Hertfordshire, who was the only European-based researcher working on the project and led analysis of the data, said: "It is fascinating to think that when we look at the nearest stars, all of them appear to have planets orbiting them.

"This is something astronomers were not convinced about, even as little as five years ago.

"These new planets also help us better understand the formation processes of planetary systems and provide interesting targets for future efforts to image the planets directly."