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Earth-like Exoplanet Found 20 Light Years Away

September 30, 2010

Astronomers have found an exoplanet, Gliese 581g, 20 light years away from us which might have right conditions for sustaining life or in other words might be possibly habitable. In recent years study of exoplanets have gained lots of momentum to find earth-sun like systems. Till now there are around 500 known exoplanets and more will be discovered in near future. The exoplanet system mentioned here consists of a  red dwarf star  Gliese 581 which is about 20.5 light years away from earth. Till now six planets have been discovered in this system which has remarkably close to circular orbits like our solar system. So what makes the discovery of this planet, Gliese 581g, so remarkable? Well, it’s one of the exoplanets discovered which is believed to lie in Goldilocks zone or habitable zone where liquid water might exist.

In order for life to exist, the planet must neither be too far nor too near form it’s sun. It must have sufficient gravity to hold the atmosphere and regulate the temperature of the planet. Gliese 581 star-planet system have received lots of attention in recent years and other planets from the system have also been in such discussion. Here you can see the G581 planet-sun system showing the possible orbits of all the six planets as compared to our solar system which are shown in dotted lines. The blue one is earth’s orbit, while green and red are Venus and Mercury. What’s interesting to observe is  the circular nature of orbits and its close similarity to our solar system.  The fourth black orbit from the center is the planet under discussion in this article. AU in the plot represents Astronomical Units which is equal to distance of sun from earth.

Some other details about this exoplanet. The mass of the planet is about 3.1 times the mass of earth and orbits in 36.6 days at a distance of 0.146 AU from it’s sun. This distance is pretty close if it was our Sun, but this particular star is less bright than our sun, just 1% as bright as our Sun, so this distance is perfect to make it neither too hot or cold. 3 times the mass of earth implies, that the planet has sufficient density to hold the atmosphere which would in turn retain greenhouse gases for regulating the temperature. One thing to note here is that measurements were done using Doppler shift method which due to technique limitations can only give a lower limit on the size and mass of the planet, so this planet can be much more bigger than 3 times mass of earth. Larger mass is good to hold atmosphere but too large a size can create a very dense atmosphere and heat up the planet extensively, case in point Venus. The astronomers estimated average surface temperature based on the size, density, distance from sun etc and estimated it be in the range of 236-258K , which is pretty good. Overall, an interesting finding and a very exciting exoplanet system to study and understand in near future.

Article:The Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey: A 3.1 M_Earth Planet in the Habitable Zone of the Nearby M3V Star Gliese 581, arXiv:1009.5733v1[astro-ph.EP]

Plot credit:Authors of the article, arXiv.org

Picture credit:Wikimedia Commons- Compariosn of Gliese Exoplanet system with Earth and Neptune

Filed under: Research,Science

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1 Comment Leave a Comment

  • 1. Science Is Beautiful &raq&hellip  |  June 6, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    […] post on each of them but it seems like people want more of them! People have also been searching Gliese 581g, ununseptium, Gandhi, India, Nobel prize winners and Lammert de Jong (my only blog […]

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