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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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By cochy on 4/25/2007 3:38:35 PM , Rating: 2
This would make it impossible for photosynthesis to proceed as infrared is far too low a wavelength.

Life develops its mechanisms for survival based upon it's surrounding ecosystems. Life evolves to adapt. Obviously plants here on Earth would make use of the abundant sunlight from the Sun to make energy. Why would you assume life some place else would need the same process? It obviously wouldn't. It would adapt to survive in it's unique ecosystem.

By geddarkstorm on 4/25/2007 7:08:44 PM , Rating: 2
I said photosynthesis would be impossible, not all forms of life. As, you need to know quantum mechanics, but infrared wavelenths are too long to interact with electrons, which absolutely necessary for electronic energy generation which is what photosynthesis is. Infrared interacts with the nucleii of atoms and affects such things as bond vibrations. stretches, and bends; but it does not effect electrons.

No matter how resilient people may have this misconception that life is, life is bound by the laws of nature--physics (including kinetics), and chemistry (thermal dynamics)--just the same. There are limits to all things.

By masher2 on 4/25/2007 9:28:02 PM , Rating: 3
This just isn't true, sorry. There are bacteria on earth that perform photosynthesis in the infrared spectrum, such as the Chloroflexi or some of the Rhodopseudomonas. All you need is enough energy to excite an electron to a higher don't ionizing radiation.

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