Most Earthlike planet yet found may have water and life

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Washington, April 22 (ANI): In a new research, an astronomer has suggested that the most Earthlike planet yet found has conditions right for liquid water, and life as we know it.

According to a report in National Geographic News, the planet, known as Gliese 581d, has a lot more in common with Earth than astronomers first thought.

"New measurements of the planet's orbit place it firmly in a region where conditions would be right for liquid water, and thus life as we know it," said astronomer Michel Mayor, from Geneva University in Switzerland.

"It lies in the (life-supporting) habitable zone, and it could have an ocean at its surface," he added.

First discovered in 2007, Gliese 581d was originally calculated to be too far away from its host star-and therefore too cold-to support an ocean.

But Mayor and colleagues now show that the extrasolar planet, or exoplanet, orbits its host in 66.8 days, putting it just inside the cool star's habitable zone.

Gliese 581, a red dwarf star in the constellation Libra, lies around 20.5 light-years from Earth.

"In astronomical terms, it is one of our near neighbors, the 87th closest known star system to the sun," said Carole Haswell, an astronomer at the Open University in Milton Keynes, U.K.

Since planets orbiting Gliese 581 are too far away to be seen directly, Mayor and colleagues originally spotted Gliese 581d by searching for tiny wobbles in the host star's motion using the European Southern Observatory (ESO) telescope at La Silla in Chile.

Weighing in at around seven Earth masses, Gliese 581d is unlikely to be made of rocks alone, according to the team.

"We can only speculate at this stage, but it may have a rocky core, encased in an icy layer, with a liquid ocean at the surface and an atmosphere," Mayor said.

"It is very exciting that such a promising candidate for an Earthlike planet has been found so close to us. It means there are likely to be many more when we search further," said Norton's colleague Haswell.

And the more Earthlike planets there are, the greater the chance of discovering one that harbors life.

"I think it is only a matter of time," Norton said. "If life really does exist elsewhere in the universe, then within the next 10 to 15 years I expect we may see the first signs of life, via spectroscopic signals from exoplanets," he added. (ANI)

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