Astronomers have identified a planet as a promising candidate for supporting life outside our solar system. Co-discoverers R. Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington and Steven Vogt of the University of California at Santa Cruz are calling it the Goldilocks planet – not too hot, not too cold, but just right. Their findings were announced by the National Science Foundation on September 29, 2010 and are being published in the Astrophysical Journal.
Since the planet circles a star called Gliese 581, the newly discovered planet is called Gliese 581g. It weighs the equivalent of three or four Earths and orbits its star in 37 days, meaning the year is only that long. One side of Gliese 581g is always facing its star (sun) and has perpetual daylight, while the side facing away from the star is in permanent darkness. The researchers estimate that the average surface temperature of the planet is between -24 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit with extreme temperatures recorded on the daylight and dark sides of the planet.
The astronomers’ finding is a major step toward answering the question “Is there life on a planet outside of earth? Gliese 581g is 120 trillion miles from earth which means it would take several generations for a spaceship to land there. Independent scientists have agreed that this planet is a prime candidate for harboring life. This means that a single-cell bacteria or something like shower mold would be strong indications that life could exist on the planet. Habitability depends on factors such as liquid water and the right atmosphere. Additional research is required, of course, to determine whether the planet would sustain human life.
It is interesting that the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, has just recently endorsed the possibility that intelligent life is possible in the universe beyond earth. The Pope’s astronomer, Jose Gabriel Funes, a Jesuit priest, claims that it would be no surprise to discover the existence of intelligent extra-terrestrials and it would not create a problem for believers. He stated that the characteristics of a being with a soul, such as intelligence, free will, freedom to love and freedom to make decisions may not necessarily be attributed only to humans on earth.
The Pontifical Academy of Science, of which Stephen Hawking is a member, keeps the Pope and the cardinals updated on the latest scientific developments.