Wednesday, April 25, 2007


The science news story of today is that according to an ESO press release, the first extrasolar planet orbiting its host star in the "Goldilocks" zone, the zone of temperatures allowing for liquid water, and hence capable of supporting life, has been found.

The new planet, whose radius is estimated 1.5 times the Earth's radius, orbits a red dwarf called Gliese 581 on a close orbit with an orbital period of just 13 days; this close orbit is the reason why astronomers were even able to detect such a realtively low-mass planet. Because a red dwarf like Gliese 581 is much dimmer and cooler than a yellow dwarf like our Sun, however, this still lies in its "Goldilocks" zone with surface temperatures estimated to lie between 0 and 40 degrees Celsius, and hence Gliese 581 c (as the new planet is called) could have oceans. It should be noted, though, that the assumption of an earth-like rocky planet is based on models, not observations, so far. The next step will presumably be to attempt to detect telltale spectral lines that might reveal the existence of an atmosphere or of liquid water.

And at just 20.4 lightyears distance, the good news is that once alien civilisations have been found on Gliese 581 c, we will even be able to keep up a meaningful conversation with them. Yes, that was just a joke, but this is going to be big news in the popular press, and I am sure some tabloid will report this as "Alien life discovered!" or some such nonsense.

In other news, Life on the Lattice has now been moved to the new Blogger, and this time, things seem to work for the most part.