Life :: New planet might support life

Astronomers have discovered a new planet circling a dim red star around 20 light years away from our solar system which could be a “super earth” supporting life.

The planet is five times as massive as the earth and is in the constellation of Libra. The extra solar planet is orbiting one of our closest stellar neighbours, the red dwarf star Gliese 581.

The planet was spotted by Stiphane Udry of the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland and his colleagues by detecting wobbles in the parent star, caused by the orbiting planet’s gravity.

The planet is much closer to its star than we are to the Sun orbiting at one-fourteenth of the Earth-Sun distance, the Nature magazine reports.

But because Gliese 581 is a red dwarf, which emits less light and heat than the Sun, the planet is in the so-called “habitable zone” for its star.

The researchers’ calculations suggest that the planet’s average temperature is between 0 and 40 degree Celsius perfect for liquid water, and perhaps even life, to exist.

But this is a very crude temperature estimate, says Udry’s colleague Michel Mayor, principal investigator for HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planetary Searcher), the instrument that made the observations in La Silla, Chile.

Nature says the new planet would be a so-called “super-Earth” — a very exciting prospect, says exoplanet expert David Charbonneau at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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