Potentially Habitable, Earth-like Planet Found
A new world has been discovered by astronomers that has many similar characteristics to Earth.
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.
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.
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.
Most of this so far is speculative in terms of the planet being habitable, having an atmosphere, water or even life. However, there is this bit of encouraging news,
Astrobiologists – scientists who study the possibility of alien life – refer to a climate known as the Goldilocks Zone, where it is not so cold that water freezes and not so hot that it boils, but where it can lie on the planet’s surface as a liquid.
In our solar system, only one planet – Earth -lies in the Goldilocks Zone. Venus is far too hot and Mars is just too cold. This new planet lies bang in the middle of the zone, with average surface temperatures estimated to be between zero and 40c (32-102f). Lakes, rivers and even oceans are possible.
So what are scientists going to be doing with this discovery?
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.
This makes this planet a prime target in the search for life. According to Seth Shostak, of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute in California, the Gliese system is now a prime target for a radio search. ‘We had actually looked at this system before but only for a few minutes. We heard nothing, but now we must look again.’
Also, by 2020 it is expected that there will be a telescope in orbit that can detect life on Gliese 581c. They would look for oxygen and methane in the atmosphere which would be good circumstantial evidence for life.
This article has some more information. For example, only 220 planets outside of our solar system have been found so far. This suggests that the number of planets in our galaxy that at least offer the potential for habitability and life number in the millions.