Friday, February 3, 2012

Earth-like planet found that may be able to host life

Somewhere in space, 22 million light years away, there is a planet in a solar system of three stars. According to a team of scientists, it has many of the right characteristics to bring about life. Though we do not know for sure, it is the best candidate to have liquid water, which is one of the prerequisites for life we are accustomed to.

Three stars
In the solar system of the Earth-like candidate, there are three stars. That means it is much more complex than our solar system, where our only star is the Sun. The planet itself revolves around one of the stars in about 28 days (c), which is much faster than our Earthly 365 days. Another planet is orbiting the same star in about 7 days (b), and was also nominated to be an Earth-like planet. However, scientists quickly ruled that out, because it's small orbit would make the planet too hot.
Planets c and b, orbiting a star dubbed GJ 667C.
It is perhaps surprising that a planet with a period of not even a month could have the same temperatures as found on Earth. There are a few reasons for that. First of all, the star they orbit is classified as an M-class dwarf, which means as much as a rather small star that is not very hot: in fact the M classification makes them part of the group of coolest known stars. Additionally, the scientists performed a few calculations to determine the amount of energy that is absorbed by the planet, and they found that it must be similar to Earth. However, we still need to know what its atmosphere looks like before we can determine whether it really can give rise to life. The other two stars in the solar system are orange dwarfs, which have a higher temperature, but still are relatively cool.

It is perhaps surprising that a solar system with three stars can host two planets that could harbour life. To make it even better, the scientists that discovered them announced there might be an additional planet with an orbiting time of about 75 days. There may also may a gas giant, such as Jupiter in our own neighbourhood. These claims still need to be proven, but the findings sure make it look like a very interesting solar system.

While we have not found extraterrestrial life yet, it is a promising find. If we can find two, or possibly three, planets in a particular solar system that have Earth-like characteristics, then it seems only a matter of time before we find one that is theoretically able to host life as we know it. Additionally, NASA already discovered an Earth-like planet a while back. There are billions of stars in each galaxy, and their are billions of galaxies. Statistically speaking, it would be highly unreasonable to assume we are alone in the universe. 

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