‘Holy Grail in Space’: Astronomers Find New Planet Capable of Supporting Life

The University Göttingen and University of California astronomers have discovered their ‘holy grail in space’ – a planet capable of supporting life outside our solar system.

Gliese 667 Cc performed very well in a habitability assessment undertaken by the Habitable Exoplanet Catalog (HEC), ranking as the planet with the greatest habitability potential of all discovered exoplanets to date. Photo: NASA

Astronomers announce with excitement that the new exoplanet, Gliese 667Cc, found to be orbiting within the ‘habitable zone’ of its star, neither too near its sun to dry out or too far away which freezes it.

This discovery could help answer the question of whether we are alone in the universe, which has been plagued astronomers and alien fanatics for years.

Scientists found the Gliese 667Cc, orbiting around a red dwarf star, 22 light years (or 492,122 ‘ordinary’ years) away from the earth. In addition, the newly discovered planet is a member of a very unique orbital system.

Gliese 667Cc’s parent star, the red dwarf Gliese 667C itself orbits a binary system of two K-type stars, Gliese 667A & B at an enormous distance roughly equivalent to 6 times that between the Sun and the dwarf planet Pluto.

Red dwarf stars are the most common stars in the neighbourhood of the sun, usually hosting planets called gas giants, which are not composed of rock matter.

Re-analysing data from the European Southern Observatory, the astronomers found Gliese 667Cc is a solid planet with roughly four and a half times the mass of Earth.

The University Gottingen and University of California scientists have calculated the planet recieves ten per cent less light from its red dwarf star than the Earth gets from the Sun.

As the light is in the infrared area, the planet still receives nearly the same amount of energy as the Earth, meaning water could be liquid and surface temperatures could be similar to ours.

Astronomers are hailing the plant as the ‘Holy Grail’ of discoveries, as 20 years ago scientists were still arguing about the existence of planets beyond our solar system.

Since the discovery of the first extrasolar planet in 1995, astronomers have confirmed the existence of more than 760 planets beyond the solar system, with only four believed to be in a habitable zone.

One of the most successful tools of planet hunters is the High Accuracy Radial Planetary Searcher (HARPS) telescope, which measures the radial velocity of a star.

Scientists using this telescope to analyse the small wobbles in a stars motion caused by the gravitational response of a planet, determining the position and size of a planet indirectly.

Currently, they can detect planets which are 3-5 times the mass of the Earth but, in the future, they could detect planets which are smaller than twice the mass of Earth.

Steven Vogt, an astronomer from the University of California, said: “It’s the Holy Grail of exo-planet research to find a planet orbiting around a star at the right distance so it´s not too close where it would lose all its water and not too far where it would freeze. He also added, “It’s right there in the habitable zone – there´s no question or discussion about it. It is not on the edge. It is right in there.”

Guillem Anglada-Escudé, of University Göttingen, Germany, said: “With the advent of new generation of instruments, researchers will be able to survey many dwarf stars for similar planets and eventually look for spectroscopic signatures of life in one of these worlds.”

However, Richard Stalker from WebProNews writes: “Before you’ll get all excited about this new planet, you need to realize that at current technology and speeds it would take 492,000 years (light travels 129,329,758,210,039.39 in 22 years, divide that by the fastest man made object Voyager which is appox. 30,000MPH I get 4,310,991 hours. Divide that by 24 hrs in a day and I get 179,624,664 days, divide that by 365 days in a year and I get 492122 years).

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