Posted by: Lister | April 25, 2007

Super Earth

The new Earth-like planet they’ve found needs a better name.

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 the faint star Gliese 581, which is 20.5 light-years away in the constellation Libra.

It is 1.5 times the size of Earth and orbits its sun every 13 days. It is 14 times closer to its sun that Earth is to ours, but that sun is so much weaker than ours that the temperature on the new planet should be around 0-40C

The search for life:

Xavier Delfosse, a member of the team from Grenoble University, added: “Liquid water is critical to life as we know it.”

He believes the planet may now become a very important target for future space missions dedicated to the search for extra-terrestrial life.

These missions will put telescopes in space that can discern the tell-tale light “signatures” that might be associated with biological processes.

The observatories would seek to identify trace atmospheric gases such as methane, and even markers for chlorophyll, the pigment in Earth plants that plays a critical role in photosynthesis.

And the planet is not the only one in the system:

The Gliese 581 system has now yielded three planets: the new super-Earth, a 15 Earth-mass planet orbiting even closer to the parent star, and an eight Earth-mass planet that lies further out.

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