Monday, February 6, 2012

No Doubt: a Super-Earth in a Habitable Zone, 02.03.12

Humans have wondered throughout history if there is life out­side of Earth. Is it possible for it to exist elsewhere? Could there really be planets hundreds and thousands of light years away that have their own life forms on them? It is very difficult to tell.
One of the first criteria astronomers say a planet must meet is to be in the habitable zone (or, life zone) of the star around which it orbits. This is a region that is determined based on the size and temperature of the star, which would render the temperature on the planet at a happy sort of medium. It would not be so hot that everything would dry out and die, and it would not be so cold that it would become a frozen world. Hundreds of planets have been discovered outside of our own solar system, and some of them seem promising, but until now, there has always been a margin of doubt. Most of the planets discovered either missed the mark entirely or were situated just on the fringe of their life zone. A study led by the private nonprofit research organization, the Carnegie Institu­tion for Science, happened to stumble across one particular planet that leaves no doubt about its orbit. Meet GJ 667Cc.
CREDIT: Carnegie Institution for Science
This particular planet has been termed a “super-Earth” be­cause it is about 4.5 times as massive as our own planet. The gravity there would feel greatly multiplied compared to that on Earth, but there is no doubt that this terrestrial planet is smack in the middle of its habitable zone. It is situated rela­tively close by in the constellation Scorpio, about 22 light-years away.
One other interesting fact about the planet that is leaving as­tronomers puzzled is it is in orbit around a triple star system, all of which are lacking heavier elements typical of stars with their own solar systems. GJ 667Cc only orbits one of those stars, but it would still be rather odd to see three in the sky, we think.
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