The University of California, Santa Cruz has this press release: Newly discovered planet may be first truly habitable exoplanet. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:
A team of planet hunters led by astronomers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the Carnegie Institution of Washington has announced the discovery of an Earth-sized planet (three times the mass of Earth) orbiting a nearby star at a distance that places it squarely in the middle of the star’s “habitable zone,” where liquid water could exist on the planet’s surface. If confirmed, this would be the most Earth-like exoplanet yet discovered and the first strong case for a potentially habitable one.
Interested? Sure you are. Let’s read on:
To astronomers, a “potentially habitable” planet is one that could sustain life, not necessarily one that humans would consider a nice place to live. Habitability depends on many factors, but liquid water and an atmosphere are among the most important.
No doubt. We continue:
“Our findings offer a very compelling case for a potentially habitable planet,” said Steven Vogt, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. “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.“
Here’s where it’s located:
The paper [to be published in the Astrophysical Journal] reports the discovery of two new planets around the nearby red dwarf star Gliese 581. This brings the total number of known planets around this star to six, the most yet discovered in a planetary system other than our own solar system. Like our solar system, the planets around Gliese 581 have nearly circular orbits.
Gliese 581? Where is that star?
Gliese 581 [is] located 20 light years away from Earth in the constellation Libra …
There’s a lot more information at that link to UC Santa Cruz, but we’ll skip to the end:
“If these are rare, we shouldn’t have found one so quickly and so nearby,” Vogt said. “The number of systems with potentially habitable planets is probably on the order of 10 or 20 percent, and when you multiply that by the hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way, that’s a large number. There could be tens of billions of these systems in our galaxy.”
So there you are. Plug that into your Drake equation. If this discovery is what it seems to be, then life is likely to be everywhere!
Update (creationist view): Newfound Extra-Solar Planet: No Chance for Life.
Update: See Earth-like Planets May Be Very Common.
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