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April 24, 2007

Too Cool: First "Class M" Planet Discovered

Okay, well I guess it's the second Class M, apart from earth.

How far are we talking? I'm tired of this planet.

It's got the same climate as Earth, plus water and gravity. A newly discovered planet is the most stunning evidence that life - just like us - might be out there.

Above a calm, dark ocean, a huge, bloated red sun rises in the sky - a full ten times the size of our Sun as seen from Earth. Small waves lap at a sandy shore and on the beach, something stirs...

This is the scene - or may be the scene - on what is possibly the most extraordinary world to have been discovered by astronomers: the first truly Earth-like planet to have been found outside our Solar System.

The discovery was announced today by a team of European astronomers, using a telescope in La Silla in the Chilean Andes.

The Earth-like planet that could be covered in oceans and may support life is 20.5 light years away, and has the right temperature to allow liquid water on its surface.

20.5? Well... assuming you could travel at a significant fraction of the speed of light...

This remarkable discovery appears to confirm the suspicions of most astronomers that the universe is swarming with Earth-like worlds.

We don't yet know much about this planet, but scientists believe that it may be the best candidate so far for supporting extraterrestrial life.

The new planet, which orbits a small, red star called Gliese 581, is about one-and-a-half times the diameter of the Earth.

...but the planet is much, much closer to the weak star, giving it a year of a mere 13 days, and making it appear huge from the planet's surface.

It probably has a substantial atmosphere and may be covered with large amounts of water - necessary for life to evolve - and, most importantly, temperatures are very similar to those on our world.

It is the first exoplanet (a planet orbiting a star other than our own Sun) that is anything like our Earth.

...

Gliese 581 is among the closest stars to us, just 20.5 light years away (about 120 trillion miles) in the constellation Libra. It is so dim it can be seen only with a good telescope.

...

This new planet - known for the time being as Gliese 581c - is a midget in comparison [to previously-discovered gas giants], being about 12,000 miles across (Earth is a little under 8,000 pole-to-pole).

It has a mass five times that of Earth, probably made of the same sort of rock as makes up our world and with enough gravity to hold a substantial atmosphere.

Double our gravity, the article says. Eh. I guess you could get used to it. Especially if you had a mech.

...

It is difficult to speculate what - if any - life there is on the planet. If there is life there it would have to cope with the higher gravity and solar radiation from its sun.

Just because Gliese 581c is habitable does not mean that it is inhabited, but we do know its sun is an ancient star - in fact, it is one of the oldest stars in the galaxy, and extremely stable. If there is life, it has had many billions of years to evolve.

It's interesting gee-whiz reading that makes you feel like a 12-year-old again, especially when they speculate what it may be made of (perhaps just a a big lump of ice, with liquid water oceans and "land" consisting of icemasses).

Another article states mostly the same stuff.


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posted by Ace at 08:42 PM

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