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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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RE: yup
By AzureKevin on 4/25/2007 3:51:16 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, for what it is, 20 light years isn't bad. The closest star(s) to our sun, Proxima Centauri (and Alpha Centauri, since they're a double star system), is about 4.2 light years away. Relatively speaking 20 light years isn't so bad!

This discovery is actually pretty promising; I would've never expected a human-habitable planet to be only 20 light years away. Sure we'll never be able to get there with our current technology, but who's to say what we'll have in a century or two.

The funny thing is, if we did send a spaceship to travel to this new planet right now, a more technologically advanced spaceship that we might be able to develop in only a few decades would probably be able to catch up to the old spaceship and go passed it.


RE: yup
By Hare on 4/25/2007 4:27:03 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
The funny thing is, if we did send a spaceship to travel to this new planet right now, a more technologically advanced spaceship that we might be able to develop in only a few decades would probably be able to catch up to the old spaceship and go passed it.

Another thing to consider is that we would have a 20 year delay before hearing about the thing once it landed. Kind of like looking through a telescope and seeing stuff that has actually happened 20 years ago.


RE: yup
By exanimas on 4/25/2007 5:10:38 PM , Rating: 3
Ha, wouldn't it be ironic if that planet actually blew up 19 or so years ago and we sent something to look at it before seeing that?


"The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing" -- Sir Arthur C. Clarke














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