Sunday, April 29, 2007

Gliese 581 c

Gliese 581 c is a newly detected planet 20.5 light-years away, and located in the constellation Libra. The news from this past week almost slipped by unnoticed. But it could be something that will change our world -- in terms of human perspectives on the universe.

The planet has an estimated size about 50 percent larger (and 5 times more massive) than Earth, and a surface temperature between 0 and 40 degrees Celsius. It's one of the best possibilities for a planet outside our solar system that could sustain liquid water and "life".

The discovery was made using an instrument called HARPS (High Accuracy Radial Velocity for Planetary Searcher), which is a very precise spectrograph. It is located on the ESO 3.6-m telescope at La Silla, Chile. HARPS is able to measure velocities with a precision better than one meter per second (or 3.6 km/h). Pretty amazing technology.

I took a pause for reflection this morning, and to let the significance of this new discovery sink into my brain. Wow. It does stir up a sense of curiosity to find out more about this new world. When I was growing up, no one knew if there "any" planets outside our own solar system.

Here's a link to a Wikipedia article.

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