We possibly, kind of, might not be alone…

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

 

               A multi-media simulation showing the new planet discovered at La Silla's observatory, at European Southern Observatory (ESO)'s facility in Santiago. Astronomers reported on Tuesday they had discovered a 'super-Earth' more than 20 light years away that is the most intriguing world found so far in the search for extraterrestrial life.               Photo:/AFP

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

Scientists say the benign temperatures on the planet mean any water there could exist in liquid form, and this raises the chances it could also harbour life.

 “We have estimated that the mean temperature of this ‘super-Earth’ lies between 0 and 40 degrees Celsius, and water would thus be liquid,” explained Stephane Udry of the Geneva Observatory, lead author of the scientific paper reporting the result.

“Moreover, its radius should be only 1.5 times the Earth’s radius, and models predict that the planet should be either rocky – like our Earth – or covered with oceans.”

Gliese 581 C was identified at the European Southern Observatory (Eso) facility at La Silla in the Atacama Desert in Chile.

“Just Right” 

Infographic, BBC

The exoplanet – as astronomers call planets around a star other than the Sun – is the smallest yet found, and completes a full orbit of its parent star in just 13 days.

Indeed, it is 14 times closer to its star than the Earth is to our Sun.

However, given that the host star is smaller and colder than the Sun – and thus less luminous – the planet nevertheless lies in the “habitable zone”, the region around a star where water could be liquid.

The Gliese 581 super-Earth is in what scientists call the “Goldilocks Zone” where temperatures “are just right” for life to have a chance to exist.

Udry added: “On the treasure map of the Universe, one would be tempted to mark this planet with an X.”

(adapted from articles from the BBC and the Agence France-Presse

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