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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2007 > Apr > Apr 25

New Planet Could Harbour Water And Life?

From: Nick Balaskas <Nikolaos.nul>
Date: Tue, 24 Apr 2007 18:23:52 -0400 (Eastern Daylight Time)
Fwd Date: Wed, 25 Apr 2007 08:33:45 -0400
Subject: New Planet Could Harbour Water And Life?


Hi Everyone!

Below is a major announcement - the discovery of the first
Earth-size planet orbiting within the "habitable zone" of
another star, Gliese 581.

Gliese 581 is not among the stars in Betty Hill's star map that
were identified by Marjorie Fish. At only about 20 light years
away, this would have placed Gliese 581 within the small volume
of space in Fish's 3-D models. It would appear among the stars
in the Hill star map since this map only depicts the nearby
stars to the left side of Zeta Reticuli (the alleged home base
of the ETs that abducted Betty and Barney Hill).

If Fish was correct in her identification of the stars in the
Hill star map, then there could very well be other nearby stars
such as Gliese 581 immediately to the right of Zeta Reticuli,
possibly connected with more solid and dotted lines ("trade
routes" and "expeditions") to Zeta Reticuli.

Nick Balaskas

----------

Major Discovery: New Planet Could Harbor Water and Life
By Ker Than
Staff Writer Space.Com
posted: 24 April 2007
04:23 pm ET

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/070424_hab_exoplanet.html

An Earth-like planet spotted outside our solar system is the
first found that could support liquid water and harbor life,
scientists announced today.

Liquid water is a key ingredient for life as we know it. The
newfound planet is located at the "Goldilocks" distance=97not too
close and not too far from its star to keep water on its surface
from freezing or vaporizing away.

And while astronomers are not yet able to look for signs of
biology on the planet, the discovery is a milestone in planet
detection and the search for extraterrestrial life, one with the
potential to profoundly change our outlook on the universe.

"The goal is to find life on a planet like the Earth around a
star like the Sun. This is a step in that direction," said study
leader Stephane Udry of the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland.
"Each time you go one step forward you are very happy."

The new planet is about 50 percent bigger than Earth and about
five times more massive. The new "super-Earth" is called Gliese
581 C, after its star, Gliese 581, a diminutive red dwarf star
located 20.5 light-years away that is about one-third as massive
as the Sun.

Smallest to date

Gliese 581 C is the smallest extrasolar planet, or "exoplanet,"
discovered to date. It is located about 15 times closer to its
star than Earth is to the Sun; one year on the planet is equal
to 13 Earth days. Because red dwarfs, also known as M dwarfs,
are about 50 times dimmer than the Sun and much cooler, their
planets can orbit much closer to them while still remaining
within their habitable zones, the spherical region around a star
within which a planet=92s temperature can sustain liquid water on
its surface.

Because it lies within its star=92s habitable zone and is
relatively close to Earth, Gliese 581 C could be a very
important target for future space missions dedicated to the
search for extraterrestrial life, said study team member Xavier
Delfosse of Grenoble University in France.

"On the treasure map of the universe, one would be tempted to
mark this planet with an X," Delfosse said.

Two other planets are known to inhabit the red dwarf system. One
is a 15 Earth-mass "hot-Jupiter" gas planet discovered by the
same team two years ago, which orbits even closer to its star
than does Gliese 581 C. Another is an 8 Earth-mass planet
discovered at the same time as Gliese 581 C, but which lies
outside its star=92s habitable zone.

Possible waterworld

Computer models predict Gliese 581 C is either a rocky planet
like Earth or a waterworld covered by oceans.

"We have estimated that the mean temperature of this super-Earth
lies between 0 and 40 degrees Celsius [32 to 104 degrees
Fahrenheit], and water would thus be liquid," Udry said.

The scientists discovered the new world using the HARP
instrument on the European Southern Observatory 3.6 meter
telescope in La Sille, Chile. They employed the so-called radial
velocity, or "wobble," technique, in which the size and mass of
a planet are determined based on small perturbations it induces
in its parent star=92s orbit via gravity.

Udry said there was a fair amount of time between the
calculation of Gliese 581 C=92s size and the realization it was
within its star=92s habitable zone. "That came at the end," Udry
said.

When it did hit him, Udry knew he would be spending time
fielding phone calls from the media. "You right away think about
the journalists who will like it very much," he told SPACE.com.

More to come

David Charbonneau, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian
Center for Astrophysics (CfA) who was not involved in the study,
said the new finding is an "absolutely fantastic discovery."

"It means there probably are many more such planets out there,"
Charbonneau said in a telephone interview. Whether Gliese 581 C
harbors life is still unknown, but "it satisfies for the first
time a key requirement."

Charboneau also praised the team=92s technical skills. "The wobble
induced on the star by each of these planets is really tiny =97
it=92s just a few meters a second. That means their measurement
precision is exquisite," he said.

David Latham, another astronomer at Harvard-Smithsonian CfA,
echoed other scientists=92 praise of the discovery but said the
next step is to find a similar world where the orbit of the
habitable planet carries it between Earth and its parent star.
This will allow scientists to observe it using the transit
technique, whereby the small dimming starlight caused by the
planet=92s passage across the face of its sun can be used to
calculate its size.

Only then can scientists determine for certain whether the world
is a rocky planet or a water world with deep global oceans,
Latham said.

Alan Boss, a planetary theorist at Harvard-Smithsonian CfA, said
the new planet=92s potential for liquid water made it
"fascinating." Gliese 581 C "is the closest planet to another
Earth that has been found to date. I hope the SETI folks are
listening," Boss said.

Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI institute, said
the Gliese 581 system has in fact been looked at twice before
for signs of intelligent life. The first time was in 1995 using
the Parks Radio Telescope in Australia; the second time was
using the Greenbank Radio Telescope in West Virgina. Both times
revealed nothing.

"It has been looked at twice, but that doesn=92t mean we shouldn=92t
look at it again," Shostak said. "And indeed we should because
this is the best candidate the solar planet guys have come up
with yet."

Shostak said he was "jazzed" by the discovery. "This is pointing
to something that in the past has only been an assumption,
namely that Earth-sized worlds are not rare," he said. "We know
of only two [planets in the habitable zone]. We know this one
and we know our own. But two is better than one."

Shostak said the Gliese 581 system might be looked at again when
the new Allen Telescope Array begins operations this summer.

"You could say it=92s going to the head of the class," he said.


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