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A newly discovered exoplanet may support life ... but don't pack your bags yet

20 light years from Earth slumbers the red dwarf star Gliese 581.  Today a team of astronomers announced an astonishing discovery-- the star has a planet which is potentially habitable by humanity.

Over 200 so-called "exoplanets" -- planets outside our own solar system -- have already been found.  But so far, all of them have suffered from the "goldilocks problem," either too hot, too cold, or far too massive to support life.

But the new planet, which so far is only being called "c," is different.  It has an atmosphere, liquid water, a surface temperature estimated to range from 32 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.  It is roughly five times as massive as the earth but, due to a larger diameter, has a surface gravity only1.6 times that the Earth's.   It's also much closer to its parent star, having a 'year' only 13 days long.  The view from the surface would be spectacular, with the planet's sun appearing in the sky some 20 times larger than does our moon.

"On the treasure map of the Universe, one would be tempted to mark this planet with an X", says report co-author Xavier Delfosse of Grenoble University. "Liquid water is critical to life as we know it.  Because of its temperature and relative proximity, this planet will most probably be a very important target of future space missions dedicated to the search for extraterrestrial life."

The team examined 100 different stars using the HARPS planet searcher at the European Southern Observatory in the Chilean Alps.

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NASA's Chance
By Ringold on 4/25/2007 1:47:06 PM , Rating: 2
If NASA had much sense (they dont) they'd cling to this news and take advantage of the opportunity to announce not just the restoration of funding to projects that've been slashed but push Congress for money to not just do what it's been doing but also to make projects like the TPF not just the exception but the rule -- and to get it fast-tracked. The mass media has clung to this story, and even non-geeks can appreciate the interesting possibility of life elsewhere. Stick the hot pokers to Congress's lazy ass while they still can.

Alas, I don't suspect they'd have the creativity to storm the public scene with hat in hand accusing Congress (correctly) of not funding projects that are related to the kind of science being done that found Gliese 581c but.. it'd be nice if they did, anyway.

This, btw, illustrates why "pay as you go" could be horrible for progress if it really became the law of the land; any increase in NASA funding would have to be involved with a discussion of either raising taxes or "Why spend money on space when there are poor people?" Fungus on other planets vs the poverty card... poverty will win every time. I know those arent the proper terms to phrase the debate in, but that'll be the sound bites politicians will use; language invoking imagery of poor downtrodden people starving in the ghetto's while rich scientists send billion dollar boondoggles in to space to look for extra-solar fungus.

But this news made my week, anyway. Back when I took astronomy just a few years ago, the professor suggested a habitable planet around a red-dwarf was a huge long shot, and now.. lo and behold.

RE: NASA's Chance
By novacthall on 4/25/2007 5:06:50 PM , Rating: 2
That's the nice thing about longshots as it pertains to chances on a cosmic scale. To quote Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber: "So you're tellin' me there's a chance?"

RE: NASA's Chance
By bubbacub616 on 4/26/2007 5:19:13 PM , Rating: 2
"no ussr to beat therefore no point spending money on it" I believe is the logic used to cut NASA's spending over the years. The only thing that will get NASA cash is if China start doing some serious space exploration (and all the associated PR).

"I'm an Internet expert too. It's all right to wire the industrial zone only, but there are many problems if other regions of the North are wired." -- North Korean Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il

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