The most Earth-like planet yet has been found orbiting a red dwarf star within the Goldilocks zone (wherein liquid water can exist at the surface). It is tidally locked with its star, and it has gravity enough to maintain an atmosphere, being a mere 20%-50% larger than Earth.
A paper detailing the find by Vogt and Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, along with colleagues, is in press at the Astrophysical Journal. It is based on 11 years of data acquired by the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey, using the Keck Observatory in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, in combination with an equivalent number of observations made over a four years period by the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planetary Search (HARPS) project at the European Southern Observatory in La Silla, Chile.
Details about the planet, dubbed Gliese 581g are limited. Because it does not transit (i.e. cross in front of the star) there is no way to independently establish its size. However, the planet’s 36.6 day orbital period can be inferred from a slight back-and-forth wobble of the star, induced by the planet’s gravitational pull. The period translates into an orbital radius that is just under 15% the distance between Earth and the sun. In our solar system such a planet would be broiled by intense heat. However, because Gliese 581 is both smaller and cooler than the Sun, the planet’s “equilibrium” temperature is a balmy 228 K. That is below the freezing point of water, but if the planet has a substantial atmosphere the resulting greenhouse effect could bring that up to Earth-like conditions.
This is wonderful. The more planets we find, the more potential candidates we find for Earthlike planets, so even if this one isn’t our new future home, or can’t even support life at all, it is an inevitability that we will find one.
Meanwhile, back here on Earth, some other interesting tidbits might pique your interest.
A scientific survey has discovered extant, surviving seals of a species long thought extinct.
POM’s claims of massive health benefits for drinking pomegranate juice may actually turn out to be bluster and false advertising, suggests the FTC.
Physicists may have observed Hawking radiation from a lab-created black hole, kicking LHC doomsayers right in the junk.
Meanwhile, the Large Hadron Collider is producing some interesting and novel results in some very hairy areas of particle physics.
Some measurements of the background magnetic field generated by the Big Bang have been taken for the first time.
And this is another link to another science news article, with a layman’s explanation of why it’s interesting and a pithy and sarcastic remark.