Astronomers searching for extrasolar planets have found potential Earth-like planets around the red dwarf star Gliese 581. Three other planets have already been found, and a fourth has been discovered:
Gliese 581 e is only 1.9 times the size of Earth — while previous planets found outside our solar system are closer to the size of massive Jupiter, which NASA says could swallow more than 1,000 Earths.
Gliese 581 e sits close to the nearest star, making it too hot to support life. Still, Mayor said its discovery in a solar system 20 1/2 light years away from Earth is a “good example that we are progressing in the detection of Earth-like planets.”
Scientists also discovered that the orbit of planet Gliese 581 d, which was found in 2007, was located within the “habitable zone” — a region around a sun-like star that would allow water to be liquid on the planet’s surface, [Michel] Mayor said.
He spoke at a news conference Tuesday at the University of Hertfordshire during the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science.
Gliese 581 d is probably too large to be made only of rocky material, fellow astronomer and team member Stephane Udry said, adding it was possible the planet had a “large and deep” ocean.
“It is the first serious ‘water-world’ candidate,” Udry said.
If Gliese 581 d is an ocean planet, it’s ocean could be hundreds of kilometers deep. Due to the high pressure at the depths, exotic types of ice could form.
Let’s just say that Gliese 581 d would be one hell of a swimming pool.
Hat tip to Shakesville.