Early during the day on Wednesday Astronomer’s announced their discovery of a new planet they named Gliese 581g. This planet which is a similar size as the Earth and is orbiting a red dwarf star thought to be 20 light-years away has significant importance to the science community as this may be one of only a handful of planets that has the potential to harbor natural water. If water may be found on the planet so might organisms, even if it is only pond scum and lichen.
The latest planet discovery and most “Earth-like” to date is found in a zone of space considered the “goldilocks zone” where the surface temperature is neither too hot nor too cold to shelter water. Steven S. Vogt, a head astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz stated “Our findings offer a very compelling case for a potentially habitable planet, 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.”
Gliese 581g has a mass estimated to be up to four times that of the Earth’s and has an orbiting pattern of 37 days around the red dwarf it currently orbits. Most exoplanets tend to be gaseous masses, inhospitable to any life-form. Gliese 581g is thought to have a rocky surface and capable of maintaining an atmosphere due to the gravitational pull exerted upon it. So far, scientists have been able to ascertain that the range of temperatures can fluctuate from “…-31 to -12C, but the ground temperature would vary from blazing hot on the bright side and freezing on the dark side.”
This isn’t the first time Gliese 581 has gotten publicity. The Gliese planets have long been studied by astronomers having now discovered 6 planets in its surrounding area. The red dwarf star the 6 planets orbit around is thought to be about 1/3 the size of our sun and only one-hundredth as bright. This strikes astronomers as “hauntingly” similar to our own solar system. Several years ago Gliese 581c entered the limelight as a possible “goldilocks” planet. However, after further analysis it was discovered due to the greenhouse effect it would essentially be too hot to live on the surface.
Only time will tell whether Gliese 581g is capable of housing living organisms on its surface and whether or not other planets in the goldilocks zone may have a similar diagnosis as Gliese 581g.