06 May 2007

New Earth

I'm always a fan of science fiction. So when I heard that scientists had possibly located an "Earth-like" planet, I was immediately excited. While I know that we don't have the means to reach the planet, the mere thought of having another habitable planet was intriguing.

The planet, which is named Gliese 581 C, is located in the Libra constellation, 20.5 light years away. For the "un-nerdy" out there, 20.5 light years means that it would take us over 20 years to get to the planet if we were traveling at the speed of light. As we all know, we have not even perfected going to our own moon, let alone anything outside of our solar system.

What amazed me was the way the planet was discovered. It was not found in the traditional sense that most people think of astronomy. They used a sensitive instrument to identify a planet's signature tugging on the gravitational field of a star. To me it sounds like a plausible way to locate a planet, but how can they be so sure it would be habitable? According to scientists, they take the type of star that the planet is orbiting and are able to calculate the amount of heat that the star gives off and at what distance a planet would have to be to make it habitable for Humans.

Gliese 581 C is about 1.5 times bigger than Earth and orbits around its star in 13 days. Scientists believe that this planet has great potential to hold liquid water to sustain life. Already this has been seen as a target for NASA's Terrestrial Planet Finder, a space based program to locate planets of interest; unfortunately, the program is about a decade away from reality.

I wish that we had the means to explore this planet already. Space and distant planets has always had a certain allure. Maybe it will be possible for me to live long enough to see long distance space travel, although I doubt it. I'll just have to settle for Star Trek.

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