Most important event of the millennium so far

Astronomers have apparently discovered — for the first time — a planet which is both the correct size and the correct distance from its star to support life. And it’s only (all intended irony) 20 light years away!

Gliese 581g is the first world discovered beyond Earth that’s the right size and location for life.
“Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say that the chances for life on this planet are 100 percent. I have almost no doubt about it,” Steven Vogt, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at University of California Santa Cruz, told Discovery News.

Ever-pessimistic, I await the inevitable debunking of this epochal development. But I’m not as bad as some people on twitter, who believe that we’ll just give up on the planet we currently have as we redouble efforts to reach the new one. Sheesh.

Update 20101014: Another group of astronomers, searching for the same planet, have been unable to find any evidence that the planet even exists. Oh well.

L

8 thoughts on “Most important event of the millennium so far

  1. StephenR

    I would say that the chances for life on this planet are 100 percent

    A staggering statement. I suppose with several at least semi-plausible theories about where life on earth came from, there are then several ways that life could have ‘definitely’ come to this planet.

    But I’m not as bad as some people on twitter, who believe that we’ll just give up on the planet we currently have as we redouble efforts to reach the new one.

    That attitude arising was a fear of some when Stephen Hawking said we should flee earth a few months back.

  2. ASA

    This link http://bit.ly/9aapV3 takes you to Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy Blog (which is actually an excellent commentary on astronomy). Phil looks objectively at this and points out that it can not be claimed that life exists or even that conditions are favourable for life on the basis of the knowledge we have now. However he doesn’t rule it out either. Of more significance is the discovery of a planet in the so-called “Goldilocks” zone. Now that one has been found, the door is open for the discovery of many, many more, thus increasing the probability of life elsewhere.

  3. Psycho Milt

    Come on, now. I’ve read plenty of science fiction books – all we need is that lucky break, the discovery that allows us to easily build faster-than-light spacehships. Once that formality’s out of the way we’ll be out there colonising these inevitably-lively planets and building a powerful starfleet with cool uniforms and stuff before you know it.

  4. Stuart Mackey

    I propose that the First faster than light spaceship have the registry number NCC1701F, that it boldly go…..etc etc. It goes without saying that only such a ship can save us if the inhabitants are not so nice after all.

  5. Andrew W

    “so that half the world is in perpetual light and the other half in permanent darkness. As a result, temperatures are extremely stable and diverse.”

    Being tidally locked means that the atmosphere has probably frozen out on the dark side which would look like Pluto, the sun facing side would be a scorching vacuum and look like Mercury.

  6. Leopold

    Being tidally locked means that the atmosphere has probably frozen out on the dark side which would look like Pluto, the sun facing side would be a scorching vacuum and look like Mercury.

    Depends upon atmospheric convection – which may allow a viable atmosphere – but liquid water may only exist in the twilight zones.
    Life was we know it, Jim – I would give at less than100%

  7. Andrew W

    A dense atmosphere is able to transfer enough heat to the night side to keep the surface of a whole planet with a very long solar day at a fairly constant temperature, Venus is an example. But Venus is a dry world, if we’re talking about a planet with a dense atmosphere and liquid water on the surface, it’s hard to see how an atmosphere laden with water vapour (a powerful GH gas) wouldn’t have a runaway GH effect.
    If you move the planet further from the star to aviod this, how can there not be an icecap at the centre of the night side? on such a planet the formation of an icecap would be a positive feed back, as it grew in mass its height would grow, with increasing altitude the surface of the icecap would become colder, eventually any water vapour in the atmosphere would end up stuck to the ice, weakening the planets GH effect, cooling the planet more, then you would see other volatiles freezing out on the icecap, CO2 (more cooling) then Nitrogen.
    Eventually the only volatiles available to form an atmosphere would be those being pushed into the sun through glacial flow, but that would only be the lighter volatiles, H20 would be buried under the rest.
    This is an old star, so there would be little geothermal activity to heat the ice from below.

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