via Space.com - we live in exciting times folks.
Planet hunters from the European Southern Observatory have discovered a planet orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 581, 20 1/2 light years from our system, that is about 1 1/2 times the size of the Earth, and only five times the mass. The biggest news is it is in the star's habitable zone, with an estimated temperature between 0 and 40 degrees Celsius - meaning it could contain liquid water as well. Planet forming theory would indicate the planet would be either a rocky terrestrial type or possibly a watery ocean world. The planet orbits very close to its parent star, a year there would last only 13 days, but the dimmness of the red dwarf sun puts its habitable area much closer than our sun's..
”The goal is to find life on a planet like the Earth around a star like the Sun. This is a step in that direction,” said study leader Stephane Udry of the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland. “Each time you go one step forward you are very happy...Udry said there was a fair amount of time between the calculation of Gliese 581 C’s size and the realization it was within its star’s habitable zone. “That came at the end,” Udry said."
The star has had two examinations by the SETI institute already, but this new find bumps it up to the top of the list for a closer examination, probably by the new Allen Telescope Array slated to go online this summer. The team also discovered two other planets in the system, one a "hot Jupiter" of about 15 Earth masses orbiting the star every 5 days discovered two years ago, the other an eight Earth mass planet orbiting the star every 84 days but lying outside the star's habitable zone. The implications of the find are that there are indeed many potential planets out there that could harbor alien life forms.
Finding the Klingons and Vulcans is getting much, much closer.