Habitable Planet? A little Heavy?

Habitable?
Gliese 581 system and the habitable planet – artist’s conception
Credit: Artwork by Lynette Cook

The National Science Foundation has announced the discovery of a new planet around the red dwarf star Gliese 581. While four planets have previously been reported, only two were close to the habitable zone. One was close to the star and appears to be too hot for life. The other was too far away, and was probably too cold. The new planet is right in the habitable zone and has been dubbed the “Goldilocks” planet. It is just right.

The team of astronomers at University of California, Santa Cruz (UC Santa Cruz), and the Carnegie Institution of Washington made the disclosure at the arxiv.org website.

The new discovery has a mass that is 3.1 times that of the Earth, and has a 37-day orbit. The diameter is 1.2 to 1.4 times that of Earth.

This discovery was the result of 11 years of observations on the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. Four planets had been reported previously. The two reported in the arvix paper bring the total to six, which have nearly circular orbits of 3.15, 5.37, 12.9, 36.6, 67 and 433 days.

Estimates of the average surface temperature of the planet is between -24 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit (-31 to -12 degrees Celsius). A bit chilly, but given the range of life known on the Earth, easily comfortable for Earth organisms.

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