Astronomers say they have, for the first time, spotted a planet beyond our own in what is sometimes called the “Goldilocks Zone” that may be ripe for life: not too hot, not too cold, juuuust right.
Not too far from its star, not too close. So it could contain liquid water. The planet itself is neither too large nor too small for the proper surface, gravity, and atmosphere.
It’s just right….like the Earth.
The new planet sits smack in the middle of what astronomers refer to as the habitable zone, unlike any of the nearly 500 othe planets astronomers have found outside our solar system. And it is in our galactic neighborhood, suggesting that plenty of Earth-like planets circle other stars.
Finding a planet that could potentially support life is a major step toward answering the timeless question: Are we alone?
Scientists say this new planet is so clearly in the right zone that many astronomers are saying that it seems to “be the real thing.”
“This is the first one I’m truly excited about,” said Penn State University’s Jim Kasting. He said this planet is a “pretty prime candidate” for harboring life.
Life on other planets doesn’t mean E.T. Even a simple single-cell bacteria or the equivalent of shower mold would shake perceptions about the uniqueness of life on Earth.
There are still unanswered questions about this strange planet. It is about three times the mass of Earth, slightly larger in width and much closer to its star–14 million away versus 93 million. It’s so close to its version of the sun that it orbits every 37 days. And it doesn’t rotate much, so one side is almost always bright, the other dark.
Temperatures can be as hot as 160 degrees or as frigid as 25 degrees below zero, but in between–in the land of constant sunrise–it would be “shirt-sleeve weather.”
It’s unknown whether water actually exists on the planet and what type of atmosphere it has. Conditions are ideal for liquid water, and because there always seems to be life on Earth where there is water, chances are 100% for life on this planet.
The planet circles a star that is about 120 trillion miles away from Earth, so it would take several generations for a spaceship to get there. But in the scheme of the vast universe, this planet is right in our face, right next door to us.
The newly discovered planet is actually the sixth found circling Gliese 581, thus it is called Gliese 581g. The star Gliese 581 is a dwarf, about one-third the strength of our sun. Because of that, it can’t be seen without a telescope from Earth, although it is in the Libra constellation.
But if you were standing on this new planet, you could easily see our sun!
It’s pretty hard to stop life once you give it the right conditions.
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