Could 'Goldilocks' planet be just right for life?

reggie124

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WASHINGTON – Astronomers say they have for the first time spotted a planet beyond our own in what is sometimes called the Goldilocks zone for life: Not too hot, not too cold. Juuuust right.

Not too far from its star, not too close. So it could contain liquid water. The planet itself is neither too big nor too small for the proper surface, gravity and atmosphere.

It's just right. Just like Earth.

"This really is the first Goldilocks planet," said co-discoverer R. Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

The new planet sits smack in the middle of what astronomers refer to as the habitable zone, unlike any of the nearly 500 other planets astronomers have found outside our solar system. And it is in our galactic neighborhood, suggesting that plenty of Earth-like planets circle other stars.

Finding a planet that could potentially support life is a major step toward answering the timeless question: Are we alone?

Scientists have jumped the gun before on proclaiming that planets outside our solar system were habitable only to have them turn out to be not quite so conducive to life. But this one is so clearly in the right zone that five outside astronomers told The Associated Press it seems to be the real thing.

"This is the first one I'm truly excited about," said Penn State University's Jim Kasting. He said this planet is a "pretty prime candidate" for harboring life.

Life on other planets doesn't mean E.T. Even a simple single-cell bacteria or the equivalent of shower mold would shake perceptions about the uniqueness of life on Earth.

But there are still many unanswered questions about this strange planet. It is about three times the mass of Earth, slightly larger in width and much closer to its star — 14 million miles away versus 93 million. It's so close to its version of the sun that it orbits every 37 days. And it doesn't rotate much, so one side is almost always bright, the other dark.

Temperatures can be as hot as 160 degrees or as frigid as 25 degrees below zero, but in between — in the land of constant sunrise — it would be "shirt-sleeve weather," said co-discoverer Steven Vogt of the University of California at Santa Cruz.

It's unknown whether water actually exists on the planet, and what kind of atmosphere it has. But because conditions are ideal for liquid water, and because there always seems to be life on Earth where there is water, Vogt believes "that chances for life on this planet are 100 percent."

The astronomers' findings are being published in Astrophysical Journal and were announced by the National Science Foundation on Wednesday.

The planet circles a star called Gliese 581. It's about 120 trillion miles away, so it would take several generations for a spaceship to get there. It may seem like a long distance, but in the scheme of the vast universe, this planet is "like right in our face, right next door to us," Vogt said in an interview.

That close proximity and the way it was found so early in astronomers' search for habitable planets hints to scientists that planets like Earth are probably not that rare.

Vogt and Butler ran some calculations, with giant fudge factors built in, and figured that as much as one out of five to 10 stars in the universe have planets that are Earth-sized and in the habitable zone.

With an estimated 200 billion stars in the universe, that means maybe 40 billion planets that have the potential for life, Vogt said. However, Ohio State University's Scott Gaudi cautioned that is too speculative about how common these planets are.

Vogt and Butler used ground-based telescopes to track the star's precise movements over 11 years and watch for wobbles that indicate planets are circling it. The newly discovered planet is actually the sixth found circling Gliese 581. Two looked promising for habitability for a while, another turned out to be too hot and the fifth is likely too cold. This sixth one bracketed right in the sweet spot in between, Vogt said.

With the star designated "a," its sixth planet is called Gliese 581g.

"It's not a very interesting name and it's a beautiful planet," Vogt said. Unofficially, he's named it after his wife: "I call it Zarmina's World."

The star Gliese 581 is a dwarf, about one-third the strength of our sun. Because of that, it can't be seen without a telescope from Earth, although it is in the Libra constellation, Vogt said.

But if you were standing on this new planet, you could easily see our sun, Butler said.

The low-energy dwarf star will live on for billions of years, much longer than our sun, he said. And that just increases the likelihood of life developing on the planet, the discoverers said.

"It's pretty hard to stop life once you give it the right conditions," Vogt said.

___

Online:

The National Science Foundation: nsf.gov - National Science Foundation - US National Science Foundation (NSF)

NASA: NASA - NASA and NSF-Funded Research Finds First Potentially Habitable Exoplanet

Could 'Goldilocks' planet be just right for life? - Yahoo! News
 

Evastar

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Interesting :)

The thing is though, as i see it, why would other life forms have to be carbon based, or in any way similar to life on earth. Maybe they could breathe other gases, or survive at really high or low temperatures? Or extract their water (if they need water) from the atmosphere?

Just because all the life forms on earth appear to follow the same basic rules doesn't mean life forms on another planet would have to follow the same ones. So planets that might look uninhabitable to us might just be perfect for other beings :)
 

Firemouth

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Interesting :)

The thing is though, as i see it, why would other life forms have to be carbon based, or in any way similar to life on earth. Maybe they could breathe other gases, or survive at really high or low temperatures? Or extract their water (if they need water) from the atmosphere?

Just because all the life forms on earth appear to follow the same basic rules doesn't mean life forms on another planet would have to follow the same ones. So planets that might look uninhabitable to us might just be perfect for other beings :)

good point!
but, when looking for life, does in not make sense to look for places that have similar environments to the only place we know for sure, there is life?
 

Evastar

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good point!
but, when looking for life, does in not make sense to look for places that have similar environments to the only place we know for sure, there is life?

yes that is obviously the first place to look, i'm just saying they shouldn't discount other planets because they don't match our criteria. :)
 

fireblade

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NASA and NSF-Funded Research Finds First Potentially Habitable Exoplanet

A team of planet hunters from the University of California (UC) Santa Cruz, and the Carnegie Institution of Washington has announced the discovery of a planet with 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."


This discovery was the result of more than a decade of observations using the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, one of the world's largest optical telescopes. The research, sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation, placed the planet in an area 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.

To astronomers, a "potentially habitable" planet is one that could sustain life, not necessarily one where humans would thrive. Habitability depends on many factors, but having liquid water and an atmosphere are among the most important.

The new findings are based on 11 years of observations of the nearby red dwarf star Gliese 581using the HIRES spectrometer on the Keck I Telescope. The spectrometer allows precise measurements of a star's radial velocity (its motion along the line of sight from Earth), which can reveal the presence of planets. The gravitational tug of an orbiting planet causes periodic changes in the radial velocity of the host star. Multiple planets induce complex wobbles in the star's motion, and astronomers use sophisticated analyses to detect planets and determine their orbits and masses.

"Keck's long-term observations of the wobble of nearby stars enabled the detection of this multi-planetary system," said Mario R. Perez, Keck program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Keck is once again proving itself an amazing tool for scientific research."

Steven Vogt, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, and Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution lead the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey. The team's new findings are reported in a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal and posted online at:

"Our findings offer a very compelling case for a potentially habitable planet," said Vogt. "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."

The paper reports the discovery of two new planets around Gliese 581. This brings the total number of known planets around this star to six, the most yet discovered in a planetary system outside of our own. Like our solar system, the planets around Gliese 581 have nearly-circular orbits.

The new planet designated Gliese 581g has a mass three to four times that of Earth and orbits its star in just under 37 days. Its mass indicates that it is probably a rocky planet with a definite surface and enough gravity to hold on to an atmosphere.

Gliese 581, located 20 light years away from Earth in the constellation Libra, has two previously detected planets that lie at the edges of the habitable zone, one on the hot side (planet c) and one on the cold side (planet d). While some astronomers still think planet d may be habitable if it has a thick atmosphere with a strong greenhouse effect to warm it up, others are skeptical. The newly-discovered planet g, however, lies right in the middle of the habitable zone.

The planet is tidally locked to the star, meaning that one side is always facing the star and basking in perpetual daylight, while the side facing away from the star is in perpetual darkness. One effect of this is to stabilize the planet's surface climates, according to Vogt. The most habitable zone on the planet's surface would be the line between shadow and light (known as the "terminator").

allso view the pictures at this link.

NASA - NASA and NSF-Funded Research Finds First Potentially Habitable Exoplanet
 

snapman

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Goldilocks, the most Earth-like planet ever discovered

Scientists have found a planet that they believe stands the best chance of habouring life yet. They've called it the Goldilocks planet because it is 'not too hot' and 'not too cold'. Don't hold your breath though, it's 20 light years away!

Click Here
 

pinkhelmets

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Re: Goldilocks, the most Earth-like planet ever discovered

Snapman, I put your news post with this original one from firestory about the same thing.
I think other members also overlook decent news stories now as they are mixed in with the mass of news posted everyday. There are some decent news threads mixed in, its just not as easy to find them :)
 
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snapman

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Re: NASA and NSF-Funded Research Finds First Potentially Habitable Exoplanet

Apologies to fireblade2 and pinkhelmets. pinkhelmets, please delete my post and knock my post count down mate. Again, apologies :Dunce: lol
 

pinkhelmets

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Re: NASA and NSF-Funded Research Finds First Potentially Habitable Exoplanet

?
Why delete your post?
i just read mine and i meant fireblade, not firestory lol.
Its not a moan from me, i was putting the 2 together for chat purpose, not to say yours was offensive or summin?
 
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snapman

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Re: NASA and NSF-Funded Research Finds First Potentially Habitable Exoplanet

?
Why delete your post?
i just read mine and i meant fireblade, not firestory lol.
Its not a moan from me, i was putting the 2 together for chat purpose, not to say yours was offensive or summin?

I didn't take it as a moan at all mate, or to think my post was offensive, just that I missed that fireblade2 had already posted the subject. I didn't want credit(post count-wise and news-wise) for something that was already posted.

But I do appreciate what you've done pinkhelmets, it was purely that, due to me not looking through the news section properly (Doh!) I thought I was posting something new.

@firebalde2: can't believe we need to wait @12 years for a more powerful telescope to be built to be able to see these new worlds :(
 
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