Im proud of my geekdom in lots of ways. Im very much a babylon 5 & more of a Battlestar Galactica fan (but alas I am not a trekkie) anyhoo can you imagine the excitement on my way to work when I looked at the newspaper this morning to find out about the discovery of Gliese 581 (if you have not heard about such news Ive pasted below an article about it) Like I said I found the news very exciting when reading it in the newspaper but what bummed me out was the last piece of the report. I didnt ever expect to ever go there in this lifetime but it would have been great to see the sky there at least..
ASTRONOMERS say they have discovered a "super-Earth" more than 20 light years away that is the most intriguing world found so far in the search for extraterrestrial life.
About five times the mass of Earth, the planet orbits a cool, dim red dwarf' star in the constellation of Libra, the team from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) said.
The star, Gliese 581, has already been identified as hosting a planet similar in size to Neptune, the frigid gas giant on the edge of our own solar system.
The new planet is 14 times closer to Gliese 581 than Earth is to the sun. But because Gliese 581 is so cool, the planet is not scorched by solar radiation. It zips around the star at express speed, making just 13 days to complete an orbit.
"We have estimated that the mean temperature of this super-Earth lies between 0 and 40 degrees Celsius, and water would thus be liquid,'' said lead researcher Stephane Udry of Switzerland's Geneva University.
"Moreover, its radius should be only 1.5 times the Earth's radius, and models predict that the planet should be either rocky - like our Earth - or covered with oceans.''
"Liquid water is critical to life as we know it,'' said Xavier Delfosse, a team member from France's Grenoble University.
"Because of its temperature and relative proximity, this planet will most probably be a very important target of the future space missions dedicated to the search for extra terrestrial life," he said.
"On the treasure map of the Universe, one would be tempted to mark this planet with an X.''
In 1995, two astronomers, also at Geneva, spotted the first extrasolar planet, a term for a planet orbiting a star other than our own. Since then, 227 such planets have been spotted, according to the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia.
Gliese 581 is among the 100 closest stars to us. Its red dwarf monicker comes from the fact that it is only a third of the mass of the sun.
Because such stars emit far less heat, they offer a far greater chance of having planets in the so-called Goldilocks zone where liquid water - and thus the potential for life - can exist.
Even though Gliese 581 offers such promise, it would be impossible for mankind to reach it - or even send an unmanned scout probe - using current technology.
Chemical rockets generate only a fraction of the light speed needed to get there within a human timescale. Interestingly, Gliese 581c is so close to the Earth that if its putative inhabitants only had our level of technology, they could - just about - pick up some of our radio signals, such as the most powerful military transmitters. Quite what would happen if we for our part did receive a signal is unclear.
"There is a protocol, buried away in the United Nations," says Dr Shostak. "The President would be told first, after the signal was confirmed by other observatories. But we couldn't keep such a discovery secret."
It may be some time before we detect any such signals, but it is just possible that today we are closer than ever to finding life in the stars.