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Strange New Worlds

Strange New Worlds

By Neal Anthwal

The most Earth-like planet yet has been discovered, and it's in our own cosmic backyard. In fact, if you look through the cosmic French windows, it's over there by the cosmic laylandii.

Stephane Udry of the University of Geneva, along with a team of ten other scientists from Lisbon, Geneva, Paris and Grenoble, have discovered a planet orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 581, located in the constellation of Libra. They've dubbed it "581 c", though I would propose something more memorable such as "The Forbidden Planet", "Alterna-Earth", "Earth 2.0" or "Woking".

With the sort of understatement that comes with studying the boundless void of space, 581 c is described as being a "super-Earth" (see a picture). With a radius only 50% larger than that of the Earth, a mass an almost inconsequential five times that of our planet, 581 c is located a mere 193 trillion kilometres (20.4 light-years) away. A year on this planet lasts just thirteen earth days, since it is fourteen times closer to its star than we are to our own.

However, what makes this discovery really big news is that, although this planet is much closer to its star than ours, the star itself is much duller. So the planet sits in the fabled "Goldilocks Zone": that region of a solar system where it's not too hot, not too cold, but just right for liquid water to exist.

Liquid water means the potential for life. Granted the gravity would make any native life quite small and flat, but life is life. Time for the space scientists and astrobiologists to crack open the party poppers and dance a merry jig. Most other planets found have been Jupiter-like gas giants, so not all that useful for if you want to visit them to have a quick round of golf and put up some flags (which is, as a rule, what astronauts do when they visit other heavenly bodies).

You do realise what this means? Yes, that's right we have found a new Earth and so can deal with the overpopulation problem. I propose we convert some McDonnell-Douglas DC10s, replacing the jet engines with rockets, and load them up with all the people we cannot fit on the Earth, fly them over to 581 c - job's a good'un. The only question is who to send first; Church of Scientology anyone.

Get deeper into Neal's brain by visiting his homepage.
However, if this really floated your cosmic boat, why not try:

- News - Space yacht
- Spoof - The galactic sandwich
- News - Grass on other planets isn't greener
- Interactive - Get yourself a trip to Mars... kinda
Image: Monique

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02 Apr 2009
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