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I just learned from my pest-control dude ("Schendelize 'em!") that we've discovered the first truly habitable (by humans) exoplanet, Gliese 581g. It's Earth-sized (three Earth masses) and orbits in the middle of its star's habitable zone, where liquid water could exist on the planet's surface. This puppy is the most Earth-like exoplanet yet discovered and the first strong case for a potentially habitable one. Here's a close-up, photographed by the Vanguard generation ship, launched 3000 years ago from the island-nation of Atlantis:


Click the image to see the story. NOTE: The thing about Atlantis and Vanguard might not be true.

"New Earth," as the Vanguardians call it, is only one of two new planets discovered orbiting the nearby red dwarf star, named Gliese 581 by Earth-humans. This brings the tally of known planets around this star to 6, the most yet discovered in a planetary system other than our own. As in our Solar System, the planets around Gliese 581 have nearly circular orbits, though 581g (the Earth-like one) has an orbital period (aka "year") of only 37 days - in really close for good ol' Sol, who'd burn it to a crisp, but Gliese 581 is a feeble red dwarf star, so it's comfortably warm and has, I'm sure, the most amazing sky of any Earth-like planet, being so close to its parent. Its mass indicates that it is probably a rocky planet with a definite surface and that it has enough gravity to hold on to an atmosphere. Because it's tidally locked (doesn't rotate), the 581g-ans who live on the side facing away from the sun live in cyberpunkey perpetual night, gambling their lives against AI overlords. And stuff.

Money shot: "The fact that we were able to detect this planet so quickly and so nearby," sez Steven Vogt, who leads the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey (shut up your inner 12-year-old), "tells us that planets like this must be really common. If these are rare, we shouldn't have found one so quickly and so nearby," Vogt said. "The number of systems with potentially habitable planets is probably on the order of 10 or 20 percent, and when you multiply that by the hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way, that's a large number. There could be tens of billions of these systems in our galaxy."

Tens of billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy, alone. Ponder that.

Here's the paper.

We live in amazing times!

Chris

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
pointoforigin
Sep. 30th, 2010 04:54 pm (UTC)
I'm so excited! I feel like I'm jumping up and down inside, going "squeee!" Of course, on the outside, I shall maintain a Spock-like response of one raised eyebrow and an "Interesting, Captain." I know I'll never go there, but this is just! so! coooool!! : )
mckitterick
Sep. 30th, 2010 05:11 pm (UTC)
I know! As soon as I heard this, on went the interwebs box and I started researching. Woweee and woohoo!

(As you might guess, my Spock-like demeanour-fu is weak.)
clevermanka
Sep. 30th, 2010 05:41 pm (UTC)
I just learned from my pest-control dude

He knew about this newly-discovered planet, but he doesn't know how his own company's billing system works.

o_O
sarahbrand
Sep. 30th, 2010 07:30 pm (UTC)
I'm skeptical of Vogt's claim that this means there are billions of other habitable planets. I mean, it's certainly possible, but having another one so close could also be a fluke. (Not that I'm sulking about finding a correlation between two data series for my thesis that turned out to be spurious.)

But even totally ignoring that, it's cool enough that even one other Earth-like planet exists. Space colonization within my lifetime would be pretty much the best thing ever.
mckitterick
Sep. 30th, 2010 07:46 pm (UTC)
Oh, I hear you. The notion of billions in our galaxy alone is... well, a leap. Millions, probably, and think how cool that is!
sf_reader
Oct. 1st, 2010 01:26 pm (UTC)
I skeptical am too. This statement sounds like a PR department not like a scientist:

"The fact that we were able to detect this planet so quickly and so nearby," sez Steven Vogt, who leads the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey (shut up your inner 12-year-old), "tells us that planets like this must be really common. If these are rare, we shouldn't have found one so quickly and so nearby," Vogt said. "The number of systems with potentially habitable planets is probably on the order of 10 or 20 percent..."
lingster1
Oct. 1st, 2010 12:39 pm (UTC)
"We live in amazing times!" We do indeed. Lovely news.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )