Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Earth-like planet discovered

Astronomers have found the most Earth-like planet to date and it may have running water

Diameter: 1.5x Earth
Mass: 5x Earth
Orbit: 13 days
Temperature: 0 - 40°C
Distance from its sun: 14x closer than Earth
Distance from Earth:
20 light years

Astronomers have found the most Earth-like planet outside our Solar System to date, a world which could have water running on its surface.

The planet orbits Gliese 581, a faint star 20.5 light-years away in the constellation Libra. It is unclear if it is rocky, like our planet, or is covered in an ocean. But its temperature implies that water there could exist in liquid form and so it has raised the idea that it could also harbour life.

Already there is talk of aiming future space missions towards this planet. The first observational missions would put telescopes in place to seek any tell-tale light "signatures" that might be associated with biological processes such as changes in atmospheric gases and markers for chlorophyll, which is used by plants here on Earth to to photosynthesize.

Of the more than 200 planets outside of our solar system discovered so far, most are blazing hot Jupiter-like gas giants. The new Gliese 581 planet is in what scientists call the "Goldilocks Zone" where temperatures "are just right" for life to have a chance to exist.

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