Not too far from its star, not too close. So it could contain liquid water. The planet itself is neither too big nor too small for the proper surface, gravity and atmosphere.
It's just right. Just like Earth.
"This really is the first Goldilocks planet," said co-discoverer R. Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.
The new planet sits smack in the middle of what astronomers refer to as the habitable zone, unlike any of the nearly 500 other planets astronomers have found outside our solar system. And it is in our galactic neighborhood, suggesting that plenty of Earth-like planets circle other stars.
Finding a planet that could potentially support life is a major step toward answering the timeless question: Are we alone?
Scientists have jumped the gun before on proclaiming that planets outside our solar system were habitable only to have them turn out to be not quite so conducive to life. But this one is so clearly in the right zone that five outside astronomers told The Associated Press it seems to be the real thing.
"This is the first one I'm truly excited about," said Penn State University's Jim Kasting. He said this planet is a "pretty prime candidate" for harboring life.
Life on other planets doesn't mean E.T. Even a simple single-cell bacteria or the equivalent of shower mold would shake perceptions about the uniqueness of life on Earth.
But there are still many unanswered questions about this strange planet. It is about three times the mass of Earth, slightly larger in width and much closer to its star — 14 million miles away versus 93 million. It's so close to its version of the sun that it orbits every 37 days. And it doesn't rotate much, so one side is almost always bright, the other dark.
Temperatures can be as hot as 160 degrees or as frigid as 25 degrees below zero, but in between — in the land of constant sunrise — it would be "shirt-sleeve weather," said co-discoverer Steven Vogt of the University of California at Santa Cruz.
It's unknown whether water actually exists on the planet, and what kind of atmosphere it has. But because conditions are ideal for liquid water, and because there always seems to be life on Earth where there is water, Vogt believes "that chances for life on this planet are 100 percent."
The astronomers' findings are being published in Astrophysical Journal and were announced by the National Science Foundation on Wednesday.
The planet circles a star called Gliese 581. It's about 120 trillion miles away, so it would take several generations for a spaceship to get there. It may seem like a long distance, but in the scheme of the vast universe, this planet is "like right in our face, right next door to us," Vogt said in an interview.
That close proximity and the way it was found so early in astronomers' search for habitable planets hints to scientists that planets like Earth are probably not that rare.
Vogt and Butler ran some calculations, with giant fudge factors built in, and figured that as much as one out of five to 10 stars in the universe have planets that are Earth-sized and in the habitable zone.
With an estimated 200 billion stars in the universe, that means maybe 40 billion planets that have the potential for life, Vogt said. However, Ohio State University's Scott Gaudi cautioned that is too speculative about how common these planets are.
Vogt and Butler used ground-based telescopes to track the star's precise movements over 11 years and watch for wobbles that indicate planets are circling it. The newly discovered planet is actually the sixth found circling Gliese 581. Two looked promising for habitability for a while, another turned out to be too hot and the fifth is likely too cold. This sixth one bracketed right in the sweet spot in between, Vogt said.
With the star designated "a," its sixth planet is called Gliese 581g.
"It's not a very interesting name and it's a beautiful planet," Vogt said. Unofficially, he's named it after his wife: "I call it Zarmina's World."
The star Gliese 581 is a dwarf, about one-third the strength of our sun. Because of that, it can't be seen without a telescope from Earth, although it is in the Libra constellation, Vogt said.
But if you were standing on this new planet, you could easily see our sun, Butler said.
The low-energy dwarf star will live on for billions of years, much longer than our sun, he said. And that just increases the likelihood of life developing on the planet, the discoverers said.
"It's pretty hard to stop life once you give it the right conditions," Vogt said.
Notice that there was a MASSIVE filament in the sun's lower hemisphere around about the 22nd of February. The arrival of the radiation from that on the 27th February coincided with the 8.8-mag Chile earthquake, and there's already been many aftershocks with a 7.2 off Libertador O'Higgins today, as well as these other events, today.
Well, as of today's date there's STILL a second dark filament in the upper hemisphere ... it's when these filaments crash back to the sun's surface that the radiation burst takes place.
Also, after an extended period of solar sunspot inactivity, we're approaching the start of the 'potentially spectacular' 2010 SOLAR MAXIMUM that this 2006 NASA article warned about.
This week researchers announced that a storm is coming--the most intense solar maximum in fifty years. The next sunspot cycle will be 30% to 50% stronger than the previous one. If correct, the years ahead could produce a burst of solar activity second only to the historic Solar Max of 1958.
That was a solar maximum. The Space Age was just beginning. In 1958 you couldn't tell that a solar storm was underway by looking at the bars on your cell phone; cell phones didn't exist. Even so, people knew something big was happening when Northern Lights were sighted three times in Mexico. A similar maximum now would be noticed by its effect on cell phones, GPS, weather satellites and many other modern technologies.
For the last two days my faithful FreeView's been playing up. And I was rather intrigued by the recent 'flock of starlings falling to earth' story. Remember, a burnt-out electronic infrastructure would have CATASTROPHIC IMPLICATIONS for modern life on this planet. Far much more than the Swine Flu 'work from home' strategies the government rolled out recently. Everything would go down. Energy Grid. Transport. Money. Everything. There is no such thing as a Global Backup system. It'll be a TWO YEAR gap in electrical/electronic service, at the very least.
A self-confessed Boeing-whistleblower has been warning of imminent Gamma Ray Bursts or Electromagnetic Pulses from our sun based on interference it's receiving from a massive interstellar cloud radiating from the centre of our galaxy. This is the same cloud that David Wilcock was discussing at the Awake & Aware conference in L.A. late last year. In his mesmerising presentation, he discussed distinct and noticable changes in the magnetic/radiational data from our neighbouring planets in the solar system. This is the same cloud that's been observed to have been affecting light output from various beighbouring stars, according to NASA observations.
What to do?
I like to discuss about the preparation methods to communicate after a major solar flare event, the preparation method must be simple to follow & easily understood by the masses.
I found a great forum at God Like Production and they discuss at length ways to communicate after all the electronics get overloaded by induced electricity shock from the Solar Storm.
Various methods from the simplest to the complicated are discussed and I have a few of myself too so Let's list them all below:
*Pencil & Pen method - Since before the arrival of internet we had been sending snail mails everywhere in the globe but this time round there will be no mail vans but horseback mail instead. Leave a written note at home before going out may serve as a communication as well.
*CB Radio or UHF Radio - These radio can be preemptively protected using a simple Faraday cage so that they can be used AFTER the solar storm passed.
*Internet - Many may also argue that you won't get internet once the Internet service provider goes down after the solar storm, I will debate that the service provider can and possibly will restore their services very quickly if they know what to protect against the solar storm now. Keep your favorite internet laptops, tablets, smart phones protected with a faraday cages in case you can use it to send email or video calls to seek help.
*Renewable Energy - do not wait for the government to provide electricity to the individual, get a renewable energy source for your self as soon as possible. It may be solar panels, wind mill, bicycle generator, hand crank or even DIY methods of energy production from reflected sun lights to a steam engine power generator. Anything is possible if you have the will power & time to invest.
I may not be 100% prepared myself as there are so many things to prepare! Let's list down the items that require some kind of preparation:
-Food - in times where everywhere are closed due to lacking of electronically powered gadgets like vehicles, computers & refrigerators we must prepare food storage in event there are no electronics around to help us.
-Water - water pump from city water supply may get disabled during the solar storm as most of them are computer controlled, get a big water tank or fish tank that can give you some water to filter to drink during crisis. Filtration is important & remember to boil before drinking.
-Protect gadgets of priority - protect your electronics with faradays cages if possible so that no EMP can get through, that may means spare electronics to be kept in faraday cages. For me it may be a spare landline telephone, iPad, CB radio (not yet buy), portable hard disk, video camera and more.
Neither will hit the planet, NASA was quick to add.
Asteroid 2010 RX30 is estimated to be approximately 32 to 65 feet in size and will pass within approximately 154,000 miles of Earth at 5:51 a.m. Wednesday. The second object, 2010 RF12, estimated to be 20 to 46 feet in size, will pass within approximately 49,000 miles at 5:12 p.m.
NASA said the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Ariz., discovered both objects on Sunday. The Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., reviewed the observations and determined the preliminary orbits. The center's personnel concluded both objects would pass within the distance of the moon to Earth, approximately 240,000 miles.
The asteroids should be visible with moderate-sized amateur telescopes.