April 25, 2009

Earth-like Planets Found

Researchers say they've come across two planets that resemble Earth, one of which may be able to support life.

April 22, 2009 - The real estate market nowadays is in the toilet, which is bad for current homeowners who are watching their home equity take a dump, but good for potential buyers. However, I'm not sure I'm ready to invest in Earth property anymore, I think it's time to think outside the box and outside the solar system. Luckily, according to a new find by astronomers on Tuesday, my habitable planetary options may be expanding.

European researchers in search of Earth-like planets have come across two that they say look awfully a lot like our rock. One of the planets, named Gliese 581 e, is the smallest exoplanet ever discovered thus far, coming in at 1.9 times the size of Earth. By comparison, the vast majority of planets outside our solar system are larger than Jupiter. The other planet, Gliese 581 d, is far larger, but resides in the prime habitable zone where potential life could exist, while Gliese 581 e sits too close to its nearest star, making it a tad too hot to currently support life.

"The Holy Grail of current exoplanet research is the detection of a rocky, Earth-like planet in the 'habitable zone,'" said Michel Mayor, an astrophysicist at Geneva University in Switzerland.

Astronomers believe that Gliese 581 d, which was first discovered in 2007, exists in a region near a sun-like star that would allow for water to form on the planetary surface, and one researcher, Stephane Udry, believes that a "large and deep" ocean might already be there. "It is the first serious 'water-world' candidate," Udry said.

Another planet hunter, Geoff Marcy of the University of California, Berkeley, says that the discovery "shows that nature makes such small planets, probably in large numbers." He continued: "Surely the galaxy contains tens of billions of planets like the small, Earth-mass one announced here."

Personally, my bags are already packed and I'm ready for 20 ? light year journey it'll take to get there. Unfortunately, I can only afford to take the bus. Do you believe there are other planets out there that can support life? Share your comments below.