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Scientists: Planet fits criteria to support life

posted 9/30/2010 6:45:25 PM |
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tagged: news, space, straddle, science

I first read about this last night off Yahoo and thought that this was pretty interesting to share on here.

An artist's rendering of a planet orbiting in the "Goldilocks" zone - not too far and not too close to its star. Gliese 581g and planets like it could hold life, some scientists say.It might be a place that only a lichen or pond scum could love, but astronomers said yesterday that they had found a very distant planet capable of harboring water on its surface, thus potentially making it a home for plant or animal life.

Nobody from Earth will be visiting anytime soon: The planet, which goes by the bumpy name of Gliese 581g, is orbiting a star about 20 light years away in the constellation Libra.

But if the finding is confirmed by other astronomers, the planet, which has about three or four times more mass than Earth, would be the most Earthlike planet yet discovered and the first to meet the criteria for being potentially habitable.

"It's been a long haul," said Dr. Steven S. Vogt of the University of California, Santa Cruz, who, along with R. Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, led the team that made the discovery. "This is the first exoplanet that has the right conditions for water to exist on its surface."

In a recent report for the National Academy of Science, astronomers declared the finding of such planets one of the major goals of this decade. NASA's Kepler satellite, which was launched in March 2009 as a way to detect Earthlike bodies, is expected to harvest dozens or hundreds.

Gliese 581g circles a star known as Gliese 581 once every 37 days, at a distance of about 14 million miles. That is smack in the middle of the so-called "Goldilocks" zone, where the heat from the star is neither too cold nor too hot for water to exist in liquid form on its surface.

But scientists expressed caution about this particular planet, noting uncertainties about its density, composition and atmosphere, and the need for another generation of giant telescopes and spacecraft in order to find out anything more about it.

The discovery was announced yesterday in Washington, and the findings have been posted on the National Science Foundation's website and will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Pressed during the news conference about the possibility of life on Gliese 581g, Vogt protested that he was an astronomer, not a biologist. Then he relented, saying that, speaking strictly personally, he thought that "the chances of life on this planet are almost 100 percent."

But nobody really knows what is going on on Gliese 581g, said Sara Seager, a planetary astronomer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"If it was all carbon dioxide, like Venus, it would be pretty hot," she said, adding that she would give the planet a 90 percent chance of holding water.

Pic of the planet

The Columbus Dispatch

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Sep 30 @ 7:00PM  

Sounds good. But at our rate of speed, I'd be dead before we ever got there.

Sep 30 @ 7:07PM  
That's interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Sep 30 @ 7:11PM  
I know Som would be interested in this. I know he loves science. Hell, he probably already knows already about this.

Sep 30 @ 7:26PM  
Oh yeah... I knew about it earlier today- even bookmarked the web page to possibly post it BUT... after my last couple of science related blogs, I figured everyone was 'ODed' on science for a while!

But thanks for posting it Straddle- we are not alone!!


Sep 30 @ 9:16PM  
I'm sure we are not alone, it may be a good thing these planets are far away. Who knows what alien life forms may be there and destroy life on earth.

Sep 30 @ 10:11PM  
Who knows what alien life forms may be there and destroy life on earth.

I have a feeling that they're the ones who would have to worry about US, more so than US having to worry about them- IMO!


Sep 30 @ 10:52PM  
Very interesting straddle, you get a + in science

Sep 30 @ 11:19PM  
who cares about they make beer on that planet

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Scientists: Planet fits criteria to support life