TAMPA (CBS Tampa) – Astronomers have found the most Earth-like planet yet, and it’s only 16 light years away, reports Space.com.
It is a “super-Earth” at least five times as massive as our planet. Gliese 832c races around its star; one year there is 36 days for us. And while it is much closer to its star, that star is a red dwarf, much smaller and cooler than our sun.
The scientists say Gliese 832c orbits in the “habitable” or “Goldilocks” zone of its system, where conditions are just right for liquid water, an essential requirement to support life as we understand it.
It has a companion planet, a gas giant that orbits much farther away. It takes about 9 years for Gliese 832b to complete one orbit.
“So far, the two planets of Gliese 832 are a scaled-down version of our own solar system, with an inner, potentially Earth-like planet and an outer, Jupiter-like giant planet,” said Abel Mendez Torres, director of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo.
A team led by Robert Wittenmyer, of the University of New South Wales in Australia, made the discovery by measuring tiny wobbles the planet’s gravity induces in the motion of its host star.
In our solar system, the planets don’t just orbit the sun, they also make gravitational tugs that cause the sun to wobble. Astronomers on a far away world would be able to detect the subtle movement’s of the sun to deduce that it is the center of a planetary system.
The astronomers note there is no guarantee that the newly discovered planet would be a good home for living creatures.
“Given the large mass of the planet, it seems likely that it would possess a massive atmosphere, which may well render the planet inhospitable,” Wittenmyer said. “Indeed, it is perhaps more likely that GJ [Gliese] 832c is a ‘super-Venus,’ featuring significant greenhouse forcing.”
The paper will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.
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