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.
quote: Normally astronomers infer the existence of a planet by observing woobles