On Sept. 29th 2010, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Steven Vogt and his team of scientists made the exciting announcement they had detected the presence of an Earth-like planet three times the size of our own located only 20 light years away in the constellation of Libra.
The planet they named Gliese 581g is the 6th member of the Gliese 581 planetary system and its discovery, if confirmed, has been haled as one of the most important in the hunt for extraterrestrial life as it is essentially the first ‘Goldilocks’ planet discovered outside of the Earth.
As assistant professor of physics and astronomy, Danilo Marchesini explains: “A ‘Goldilocks’ planet is one that falls within a star’s habitable zone. A planet following this principle is one that is neither too close nor too far from a star to rule out liquid water on its surface, and thus life on the planet.”
At 4.3 billion years old, Gliese 581g is only slightly younger than Earth and orbits its own small red star called Gliese 581 once every 37 days. Also one side of the planet is perpetually facing its star while the other side remains in darkness, with the ‘grey’ zone considered the most likely area to support life.
Gliese 581g is attracting considerable interest, as despite discovering nearly 500 exoplanets outside our own solar system, most have been found to be either gas giants or too hot or too cold to support potential life.
As the planet’s discoverer Steven Vogt explains: “Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say, my own personal feeling is that the chances of life on this planet are 100 percent. I have almost no doubt about it.”
As further studies and observations continue to take place on Gliese 581g, the discovery of the planet, as Danilo Marchesini explains, increases the likelihood of finding intelligent life in our ‘solar neighborhood’ and “it gives the potential of companionship in a lonely universe.”