Another Earth?

Spotted on the BBC News website: A story about the discovery of an earth-like (or at least more Earth-like than Jupiter-like) planet in the “Goldilocks” zone of a star a mere 20 light years or so away!

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

Scientists made the discovery using the Eso 3.6m Telescope in Chile.

They 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.”

Reading a bit further on:

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.

To make their discovery, researchers used a very sensitive instrument that can measure tiny changes in the velocity of a star as it experiences the gravitational tug of a nearby planet.

This is quite exciting, although I do wish that they’d clarify the use of “life” to the more cautious “life as we know it”, or “as far as we understand”, but I always have that gripe about such articles.

Read more here on the BBC, and here on AP (via Yahoo).


(Thanks Oliver!)

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30 Responses to Another Earth?

  1. Yvette says:

    Lovely. Isn’t it odd how commonplace stories like this are which would have been the realm of the fantastic just a few years ago?

    Personally, I’m still waiting for the detection of free oxygen in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting another star. I’m thinking it will happen sooner than we dare think. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. astromcnaught says:

    Someone’s updated the wikipedia already!
    The star is a red dwarf, which is the most common form of star.
    Standing under alien trees, feeling rather heavy. I look up at a swollen red orb in the sky, full of gloomy spots. A few days makes a year here so not long ’til my 1,320 birthday, how nice!

    Maybe tho, I should wait for some spectroscopic oxygen first ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Aaron F. says:

    Ha! If their year is 13 of our days, I wonder how long a day there is? What would it be like to be a civilization growing up in a place where the day and the year were almost the same amount of time? The seasons would sure seem a lot less important… ๐Ÿ˜›

  4. Aaron F. says:

    Uh oh… wait a minute! If their day were really long, like 12 Earth days, that could be trouble. I’d hate to live on a planet that got beaten by the sun 169 (?) Earth days in a row. There is such a thing as too much sunshine!

  5. Blake Stacey says:

    Someone at Bad Astronomy asked how long it would take to get there, so I ran through the relativistic rocket calculations. At 1g shipboard acceleration, unless I made an arithmetic mistake, you’d spend 3.6 years ship time getting there (if you didn’t bother to slow down to visit) and about 20.5 years Earth time.

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  7. JC says:

    Another planet to move to, once our sun becomes a red giant? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. Aaron F. says:

    At 1g shipboard acceleration, unless I made an arithmetic mistake, youรขโ‚ฌโ„ขd spend 3.6 years ship time getting there (if you didnรขโ‚ฌโ„ขt bother to slow down to visit) and about 20.5 years Earth time.

    Hmmm… I’m not the adventurous type, and unfortunately your numbers don’t look so good for an automated mission. 40 years to get there plus 20 years to get the postcards back is kind of a long time… most of the people who worked on the project would be dead before any interesting signals made it back. Not to mention the enormous energy needed to maintain a 1g acceleration for 20 light years, and the difficulty of programming a robot to fly 20 light years and then explore an uncharted solar system without any human guidance!!! Oh well… there’s always our own solar system…

  9. Aaron F. says:

    Ugh! The energy problem is worse than I thought… naively calculating the work required to accelerate a (constant-mass) 2000 kg spacecraft at 1 g over 20 light years by just multiplying gives around 4*10^21 joules, or about 40,000 kg of fuel converted entirely to energy! Even if that number is an order of magnitude too high, it’s still completely ridiculous for a 2000 kg ship. ๐Ÿ™ But maybe the relativistic calculation is much different…

  10. spyder says:

    Oh, come on, there must be all sorts of humanoids walking around who really are aliens from that planet; because, well you know, they have advanced technologies and have been ‘watching” and “among” us for a long time. All we need to do is just ask, right?

  11. Lab Lemming says:

    Is life not as we know it really life? According to whom?

  12. andy says:

    Professor Johnson or anyone else who is good at this,
    if the space ship traveled very fast and experienced time contraction, would it still be 20 years of their time to take the trip?

  13. Aaron F. says:

    Andy — according to Blake Stacey, above, anyone aboard the ship would enjoy a short, 3.6-year trip.

  14. So do we beam messages that way? We could get a reply in 41 years. I might live that long.

    The paper mentions missions to the star. They’re talking about near space telescopes to study it.

    Current tech is Voyager I. At that speed, it’s about 370,000 years, one way. We could do better if we tried harder. Perhaps solar photon or electric sails, better Juptier assist, etc.

  15. T says:

    According to the Mayan calendar, which dates back thousands of years and predicted all previous major changes in societal mindsets, we will meet our ancestral neighbours in 2011-can’t wait!

  16. Clifford says:

    Great! This is just after (according to Bladerunner) everyone will have flying cars in LA, which I’m also looking forward to a lot! ๐Ÿ˜‰


  17. TBB says:

    Flying cars! Where’s my Jetpack? C’mon, physicists, let’s get going with these avionic ideas; I’ve got places to go….


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  19. Prajwol Gautam says:

    it would bw nice if we could know the much more information than we have right now. i cant wait to get more surprised.:-)

  20. gautham says:

    its really foolish we (human being)should not be commit to surprised

  21. jasmine says:

    O my gosh!im ecxited what if there really is another earth out there and there studying us?sometimes I wonder if the universe can be a planet inside a solar system?

  22. Anthony says:

    This is absolutely amazing, they could be observing us, studying us, hopefully we could meet this new neighbor of ours in 2011 as T said.


  23. Dr.Cano says:

    Well that’s very interesting just think living there it would be a complete delight.

  24. Mad~ says:

    Wouldn’t it be interesting, if a form of life had already been sent travelling down to our earth? If it were already ahead of us in knwledge in technology? I …doubt this, but I would like to see more discoveries of this planet during my lifetime…

  25. Bala says:

    The other earth could be filled with water. If aliens are living out there and their technologies are advanced when compared to us in the sense. They should have reached here before us with no time. This is interesting and i want to know what’s really out there with in i die.

  26. danny says:

    i think it will be along time before we will even have the technology to even start thinking about such a mission. i think before we can even begin to plan for such a trip, mastering the ability of getting a ship to travel at the speed of light should be the main `priority, at least then the trip wouldn’t be as long. they believe the large hadron collider sends protons round the underground tunnels at near the speed of light, so let us start from there and get faster!

  27. danny says:

    i also forgot to add that there has been a discovery of a planet orbiting the star system alpha senturi, which has two host stars, they believe that because of the two star system it is very unlikey that the planet is a gas giant like jupiter, as there is not enough space and cold enough tempertures to form, making this planet a real contender for future earth! and don’t all start worrying about want protect us from astaroids,meteors,comets, etc, in fact we wouldn’t need a jupiter like planet as there is to suns, there gravitational pull would pull any debry into their reaches.

  28. Adrian Warrick says:

    Such a grand variety of limitless possibilities out in the vast expansion of space.Remains to be known however exactly when and where we as a species will one day be capable of engaging in comunications with beings from other words.One should alwways aproach any planet wich may harbour life with exteme cautious action.Afer all,We may be looking at them while they look back.after all any unknown being or creatures would or could be hostile!

  29. Lawerance says:

    Omg its passed 2011 so now its 2012. So now we just go to wait and see what happens… ๐Ÿ™

  30. jayda says:

    omg please let there be another Earth!!!!!!!!!!! ๐Ÿ™‚