Potentially habitable planet found
By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer
What (the European Southern Observatory's telescope in La Silla, Chile,) revealed is a planet circling the red dwarf star, Gliese 581. Red dwarfs are low-energy, tiny stars that give off dim red light and last longer than stars like our sun. Until a few years ago, astronomers didn't consider these stars as possible hosts of planets that might sustain life.
The discovery of the new planet, named 581 c, is sure to fuel studies of planets circling similar dim stars. About 80 percent of the stars near Earth are red dwarfs.
The new planet is about five times heavier than Earth. Its discoverers aren't certain if it is rocky like Earth or if its a frozen ice ball with liquid water on the surface. If it is rocky like Earth, which is what the prevailing theory proposes, it has a diameter about 1 1/2 times bigger than our planet. If it is an iceball, as Mayor suggests, it would be even bigger.
Based on theory, 581 c should have an atmosphere, but what's in that atmosphere is still a mystery and if it's too thick that could make the planet's surface temperature too hot, Mayor said.
However, the research team believes the average temperature to be somewhere between 32 and 104 degrees and that set off celebrations among astronomers.
Until now, all 220 planets astronomers have found outside our solar system have had the "Goldilocks problem." They've been too hot, too cold or just plain too big and gaseous, like uninhabitable Jupiter.
The new planet seems just right — or at least that's what scientists think.
[More to come? You betchya!]
With the speed with which technology has advance over the last century, who knows how close we actually are to Colonization Days?
Let's hope we even survive that long and don't end up a scourge of the universe.