Wednesday, April 25, 2007

New Planet! Time to send out the terraforming colony ships!

Image from OutaLance Shipyards

It looks like we've found an earthish-sized planet in the "habitable zone" of a red dwarf star only 20.5 light years away:
A rocky planet not much larger than Earth has been detected orbiting a star close to our own neighborhood in the Milky Way, and the European astronomers who found it say it lies within the star's "habitable zone," where life could exist -- possibly in oceans of water.
The terraforming crews will have their hands full though:

David Spergel, chairman of Princeton astrophysics department, noted that the new planet, if it is indeed rocky, must be "tidally locked" to its sun the way our moon is to the Earth -- which means that it must always show its same face to its sun, and that while one side would be too fiercely hot to support life, the other side would be too cold.

But at the terminator -- the margin between the hot and cold parts of the planet -- Spergel agreed that liquid water could well exist, hurricane force winds would blow, and although the planet would be radically different from Earth, life might well exist in that difficult environment. "This is a big, impressive step," Spergel said.

Let's hope Grishnash can learn more about this and chime in with his expert opinion!

UPDATE: Time has a picture of the star Gliese 581, which of course looks pretty much like every other star.
Image from Time

UPDATE II: Apparently, this discovery is causing bookies to adjust their odds of confirming extra-terrestrial intelligence:
William Hill said it had shortened the odds on proving the existence of extra-terrestrial intelligence from 1,000/1 to 100/1.

Spokesman Graham Sharpe said: "We would face a possible eight figure payout if it were to be confirmed that intelligent life of extra-terrestrial origin currently exists.

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