Astronomers Discover Most Earthlike Planet Yet
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Uploaded by NewsyScience on May 24, 2011
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BY MARIA LOPEZ
ANCHOR ANA COMPAIN-ROMERO
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Twenty light years away, orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 581, there's Gliese 581d, which might be the first habitable planet beyond Earth. According to National Geographic, it seems to have just the right conditions to suggest simple life exists there.
"It's just the right distance from its sun. Any closer and water would boil away, any further, and it would freeze. Ideal conditions for life to have evolved. And if comets have struck, delivering water and organic materials, then life, complex beings like us, even civilizations like our own could be down there, right now."
But this is not the first time scientists glance over the Gliese 581 for possible hospitable planets. Two other candidates were found here, though they were ruled out after closer examination. Paul Butler, one of the discoverers, explains why Gliese 581d is the first viable candidate.
TIMES OF EARTH: "The significance of this discovery is that it's the first time we found a planet that has the right mass and has the right distance to have liquid water and a substantial atmosphere. People have been getting closer and closer over the last couple of years; didn't find any planets that are on hot edge of the habitable zone and on the cold edge of the habitable zone, but finally we have one right in the middle."
But we're not ready to go explore this planet, at least, not yet. According to Science Daily, it would take us 3,000 lifetimes to get there... and there are still more downsides.
"If Gliese 581d does turn out to be habitable, it would still be a pretty strange place to visit -- the denser air and thick clouds would keep the surface in a perpetual murky red twilight, and its large mass means that surface gravity would be around double that on Earth."
Truth be told, scientists still need more data to determine conclusively whether Gliese 581d is habitable. Space.com suggests they probably have to detect and characterize its atmosphere directly, which is probably still years off.
"It requires the development of new and advanced telescopes. Human-made probes won't be getting to the planet anytime soon; with current technology, it would take spacecraft hundreds of thousands of years to make the 20-light-year trek."
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