Friday, April 8, 2011

Forecast: a 100% chance of life, 10.08.10

20 Light-years away in the constellation Libra, there is a planet orbiting in a solar system much like our own. This planet, dubbed GL(Gliese)581 g, has five companion planets orbiting in almost circular paths with it around its red dwarf star, a star that astronomers are calling “immortal” because it is at such a level of stability that it could go on shining indefinitely. GL581g is about three or four times the mass of our Earth, is probably rocky, and may even be able to sustain an atmosphere. There is a very solid chance that it has liquid, usable water on it. Pending confirmation, this planet may have one other very important similarity to our own planet: it may have life.

“…The chances of life on this planet are 100 percent,” said University of California astronomy professor Steven Vogt. “I have almost no doubt about it.” Another astronomer, Sara Seager, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has said “it really is monumental if you accept this as the first Earth-like planet ever found in the star’s habitable zone.” The “zone” Seager was referring to is an area that is the measure of distance away from a star that a planet must be in order to maintain a moderate enough temperature to support life. Get too close, and everything on the planet gets fried. Too far away, and everything stays permanently frozen. GL581g is in just the right position that it’s neither too hot nor too cold for life as we know it to dwell.

“It’s a bigger deal then most people think,” says staff astronomer at Thronateeska Heritage Center, Jim Friese. “It [alien life] might be just mold or fungus, it’s doesn’t matter. Life on another world could have an impact on human societies and change our priorities… This is the kind of discovery that drives science to achieve the impossible.”


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