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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Earth 2.0

On Tuesday, a team of European astronomers announced that they had not only found a new planet circling a comparatively nearby star in the constellation Libra, but that that planet is unexpectedly Earth-like. Like Earth, it orbits a comfortable distance from its sun; like Earth, it maintains a surface temperature somewhere between 32 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit [0 and 40 degrees Centigrade]. Most importantly, like Earth, it could easily harbor surface water. In the biological arithmetic we know best, warmth and water often equal life.

For all its terrestrial feel, the new planet — unpoetically dubbed Gliese 581c — has a decidedly extraterrestrial look. It is probably more than 1.5 times the diameter of Earth and five times heavier. But unlike our world, which orbits a comfortable 92.9 million miles from the flames of the sun, 581c hovers just 7 million miles from its home star. What prevents it from being incinerated like a match head is that its star is a red dwarf, only about one one-hundredth as bright as the sun. The dim light coupled with the planet's close proximity places it in what astronomers call the habitable zone: the spot at which temperatures remain comfortable and water can remain liquid. All this has led to a fair amount of astronomical hyperventilating. "On the treasure map of the universe, one would be tempted to mark this planet with an X," said Xavier Delfosse, an astronomer with Grenoble University in France and one of the planet's co-discoverers. Dmitri Sasselov of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, went further, enthusing to The New York Times, "It's 20 light-years [away]. We can go there." (Sasselov did not make it clear just how we'd make that 120 trillion mile trip when it still takes us eight months to cover the 35 million miles to Mars.)

("Life on the New Planet?", Time)

Although the planet’s parent star is among the 100 closest to the Sun, humankind’s chances of visiting it, let alone escaping there in the event of environmental disaster on Earth, is vanishingly small. Even with the fastest manned spacecraft to be built, it would take astronauts 554,000 years to get there.

("Found, a planet like earth — but 554,000 years away," The Times)

The Fishchaser:  we should tell the Japanese we found a planet full of giant tentacle monsters and their females are somehow little schoolgirls

The Fishchaser:  we'll be going faster than the speed of light in a week

I second that :-P


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