Nov 11, 2010


          An artist's impression of the planet Gliese 581g
JUST AS THIS issue was going to press, the news we'd been eagerly anticipating was announced: the discovery of the first Earth-like planet with the potential to be habitable. The mass of Gliese 581g is around four times that of Earth so it's likely to be rocky, with sufficient gravity to retain an atmosphere. It is squarely in the middle of its star's 'habitable zone' - a region in which liquid water could exist on the surface.

Gliese 581g is tidally locked, so that one side faces the star while the other is always in darkness. If there is any life there, the line between the light and shadow (the 'terminator') is where it's most likely to be found. The discovery was based on 11 years' worth of observations with the WM Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

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