Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Newsy: Earth-Like Planet Found

Astronomers have discovered an Earth-like planet which may be able to sustain life. They have named it 'Goldilocks'.

“For the first time, astronomers have spotted a so-called ‘Goldilocks’ planet. Now, that’s a world so similar to Earth in temperature, size, and proximity to its sun that the conditions for life to exist are, quote, ‘just right.’” (CBS)

According to scientists, the newly-discovered planet is the most like Earth ever found. Astronomers sifted through 11 years of data recording subtle shifts caused by planets orbiting the star Gliese 581. They were able to find two new planets around the star, one of which is in a so-called ‘habitable zone.’

On ITN, astronomer R. Paul Butler, co-discoverer of the planet, explains why this planet is unique: “The significance of this discovery is that it’s the first time we’ve found a planet that has the right mass and is the right distance to have liquid water and a substantial atmosphere.”

Questions still remain over what type of atmosphere the planet has. Steven Vogt, co-discoverer, says on Russia Today the answer would weigh heavily on the chances of life on the planet: “We don’t know exactly what the atmosphere is composed of. I mean, if the atmosphere is pure ammonia it might be tough. If it’s conventional gasses like oxygen and carbon dioxide, that sort of thing, sure, there’s every bit of reason to think that life as we know it could exist there.”

Derrick Pitts, Chief Astronomer at the Franklin Institute, told MSNBC this discovery is expected to serve as a model for other planet hunters, since this planet was discovered relatively quickly: “But the real thing that happens here is the door is now open for these astronomers and others to begin looking at this particular type of star for planets of this type at other locations throughout the galaxy.”

The new planet is 20 light years away from our solar system, which in space terms - is right in our backyard. Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post says finding an Earth-like planet so close means possibilities for life outside our solar system may be greater than once thought: “The fact that Gliese 581g is relatively close and was found relatively soon in the process does suggest strongly that the galaxy is lousy with Goldilocks planets. ... If life is common (big if), and habitable planets are common, then you're looking at night into an extremely biological universe.”

So what do you think of this latest planetary find? Beam me up Scottie? Or Alien territory?

Writer: Steven Sparkman

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