Gliese 581 C: a New Earth?
For some years now, astronomers have been racking up discoveries of extra-solar planets—that is, planets circling other stars. It's been very exciting, but until now, they've mostly been giant planets, because those are the most easily detected. And they've all been way outside the presumed habitable range in terms of distance from their suns. That has now changed, according to study leader Stephane Udry of the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland. Space.com reports:
An Earth-like planet spotted outside our solar system is the first found that could support liquid water and harbor life, scientists announced today.This possible Earth-like planet is only 20 light-years away, circling the red dwarf star Gliese 581. Read the whole story on space.com.
Liquid water is a key ingredient for life as we know it. The newfound planet is located at the "Goldilocks" distance—not too close and not too far from its star to keep water on its surface from freezing or vaporizing away.
And while astronomers are not yet able to look for signs of biology on the planet, the discovery is a milestone in planet detection and the search for extraterrestrial life.
As an aside, although we haven't yet discovered weird life on other planets, we do have some pretty weird life on this one (outside of the federal government, I mean). Check out this short video of a bird of paradise performing a mating dance.