Reported on space and astronomy Usenet newsgroups, the planet an astronomer who picked up a mysterious pulse of light coming from the direction of the newly discovered Earth-like planet almost two years ago has emerged.
Dr Ragbir Bhathal, a scientist at the University of Western Sydney, picked up the odd signal in December 2008, long before it was announced that the star Gliese 581 has habitable planets in orbit around it.
Researchers from the University of California Santa Cruz and the Carnegie Institution of Washington said Wednesday the planet has three times the mass of Earth and orbits its star at a distance that places it smack in the middle of the star’s “habitable zone” — the vital zone where liquid water could exist on the planet’s surface.
“Our findings offer a very compelling case for a potentially habitable planet,” said Steven Vogt, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz who, with Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution, led the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey. “The fact that we were able to detect this planet so quickly and so nearby tells us that planets like this must be really common.”
Dr Bhathal’s discovery had come just months before astronomers announced that they had found a similar, slightly less habitable planet around the same star 20 light years away. This planet was called Gliese 581e.
Gliese 581 is a red dwarf star with only 1/3 the mass of the sun and a much cooler surface temperature — 5300 degrees F vs. 11,000. Red dwarfs are ideal candidates for searching for extrasolar planets because with cooler temperatures, their habitable zones lie closer to the star. A planet orbiting close to a small sun exerts a stronger, more easily detectable tug than one orbiting within the more distant habitable zone of a massive, hotter star.
The planet’s gravitational pull causes the star to wobble a bit back and forth, and that’s what astronomers detect with sophisticated equipment. Gliese 581 g orbits just 14 million miles from Gliese 581, more than six times closer than Earth to the sun. Its close proximity has slowed the planet’s rotation so only one side faces the sun, while the other is in shadow. The team estimates that temperatures range from 160 above on the sunny side to 25 below on the back. In the twilight zone, along day-night border, it would be comfortable enough to stroll about without a coat.
Dr Steven Vogt who led the study at the University of California, Santa Cruz, today said that he was ‘100 per cent sure ‘ that there was life on the planet.
The discovery was a result of eleven years of observations of the red dwarf star Gliese 581 using the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, one of the world’s largest optical telescopes. The planet is located in an area where liquid water could exist on its surface.
This could be one of the greatest discoveries yet. If this could sustain life then we will be open to new horizons, a new place to conquer that we may soon call home, Battlestar Galactica style. There are still more investigations to be done before the final answer could be raised.
Keep in touch with this New Planet Found in Goldilocks Zone that May Support Life on space and astronomy related newsgroups for more info.