Scientists have discovered a planet purported to have characteristics similar to Earth, causing a stir in the scientific community. The most promising place for extraterrestrial life yet discovered, the planet is located in a small solar system on the edge of the Milky Way galaxy. In terms of its place within the universe, it is relatively close to Earth, “only” 20.5 light years away—120 trillion miles.
Scientists are thrilled at the discovery of the planet, which has been named Gliese 581 c, a world that could have liquid water, either being a rocky planet (like our own) or covered in oceans. Water is needed to support life as we know it.
Gliese 581 c has not actually been observed. Rather, by viewing the effects that the planet has on the gravity of its sun, a red dwarf star, scientists were able to identify its orbit size, find its mass is 50% larger than Earth’s, and infer a temperature range—a habitable 0 to 40 degrees Celsius.
As there is no way to directly check for water there, the only way to confirm its presence would be to send a probe. Using today’s technology, it would take a probe more than 260,000 years to arrive at the planet, making the mission unfeasible.
However, as it stands, of the 220 planets discovered outside our solar system so far, this one most resembles our own.
Some experts, in light of this discovery, are saying it is only a matter of time before a planet much like Earth is found.
Others would rather wait before claiming the planet is hospitable to life. One scientist who helped discover it said the findings were “a significant step on the way to finding possible life in the universe,” but qualified that statement by saying, “It’s a nice discovery. We still have a lot of questions”