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article imagePossible habitable planet Gliese 581 is 20 light years away

By Paul Wallis     Sep 29, 2010 in Science
More searching after finding two other planets eventually came up trumps in the case of Gliese 581. The third planet, believed to be about four times the size of the Earth, rocky, and able to hold an atmosphere, is in the "Goldilocks zone" - just right.
The new planet orbits a red dwarf star (Gliese 581), not a yellow dwarf like the Sun. The total number of known planets in this system is six. Gliese 581g is also believed to have about 1.4 times the mass of Earth. Average surface temperature is estimated at –24 to 10 degrees, which also deserves mention as the first habitable temperature discovered on another planet.
The relatively small size of the planet made it hard to find, but the signs are there that all the exo planet hunting is now getting a lot more refined. The Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey, which discovered Gliese 581g commented that these planets must be relatively common, if they were able to find this one “so quickly” based on 11 years of accumulated data.
Gliese 581g has a few other major claims to fame in the future. Positive identification of a rocky Earth like planet means there are now some parameters to work with, not just hope of spotting one passing around its sun. It’ll be pretty easy to compile working profiles which will indicate the possibility of Earth like planets from this discovery, which has effectively changed the face of exo planet hunting.
The problem has always been the difficulty of identifying small rocky planets in systems. Having super giant planets whizzing about stars doesn’t help much, because they cause “wobbles” in the stars they orbit, and it’s been a long search to find ways of positive identification for the small planets which logically should be there, somewhere.
20 light years, as a distance, is a hiccup. It’s theoretically within range of improved space drives for robots, and the steadily increasing capabilities of super telescopes and giant radio telescopes will add extra grunt to finding exo planets.
When the world gets over rockets and their 5% efficiency rate, expect some very interesting news.
Note to readers: I found several different versions with different quote attributions for this article. According to Science Daily, the Lick Carnegie Exoplanet Survey is responsible, but according to other sites, notably Space Daily, other institutions are involved and other parties are attributed with the same quotes. After all, they're scientists, not publicists.
More about Exo planets, Gliese 581, Space, Lick-carnegie survey
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