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  • Possible habitable world discovered

    first_imgAnd that “just right” temperature is one key reason astronomers think this planet could conceivably house life outside our solar system. It’s also as close to Earth-size as telescopes have ever spotted. Both elements make it the first potentially habitable planet besides Earth or Mars. Astronomers who announced the discovery of the new planet Tuesday says this puts them closer to answering the cosmic question: Are we alone? “It’s a significant step on the way to finding possible life in the universe,” said University of Geneva astronomer Michel Mayor, one of 11 European scientists on the team that found the new body. “It’s a nice discovery. We still have a lot of questions.” There’s still a lot that is unknown about the new planet, which could be deemed inhospitable to life once more is learned about it. But as galaxies go, it’s practically a neighbor. At only 120 trillion miles away, the red dwarf star that this planet circles is one of the 100 closest to Earth. The results of the discovery have not been published but have been submitted to the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. Alan Boss, who works at the Carnegie Institution of Washington where a U.S. team of astronomers competed in the hunt for an Earth-like planet, called it “a major milestone in this business.” The planet was discovered by the European Southern Observatory’s telescope in La Silla, Chile, which has a special instrument that splits light to find wobbles in different wave lengths. Those wobbles can reveal the existence of other worlds. What they revealed is a planet circling the red dwarf star Gliese 581. Red dwarfs are low-energy, tiny stars that give off dim red light and last longer than stars like our sun. Until a few years ago, astronomers didn’t consider these stars as possible hosts of planets that might sustain life. The discovery of the new planet, named 581 c, is sure to fuel studies of planets circling similar dim stars. About 80 percent of the stars near Earth are red dwarfs. The new planet is about five times heavier than Earth, and gravity there would be 1.6 times as strong as Earth’s. Its discoverers aren’t certain whether it is rocky like Earth or if it’s a frozen ice ball with liquid water on the surface. If it is rocky like Earth, which is what the prevailing theory proposes, it has a diameter about 1 times bigger than our planet. If it is an ice ball, as Mayor suggests, it would be even bigger. Based on theory, 581 c should have an atmosphere, but what’s in that atmosphere is still a mystery and if it’s too thick that could make the planet’s surface temperature too hot, Mayor said. However, the research team believes the average temperature to be somewhere between 32 and 104 degrees and that set off celebrations among astronomers. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! WASHINGTON – European astronomers have found the most Earth-like planet outside our solar system, and here’s what it might be like to live there: The “sun” wouldn’t burn brightly. It would hang close, large and red in the sky, glowing faintly like a charcoal ember. And it probably would never set if you lived on the sunny side of the planet. You could have a birthday party every 13 days because that’s how fast this new planet circles its sunlike star. But watch the cake – you’d weigh a whole lot more than you do on Earth. You might be able to keep your current wardrobe. The temperature in this alien setting will likely be a lot like Earth’s – not too hot, not too cold. last_img read more

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