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Astronomers Find Most Earth-like Planet to Date
via ScienceNOW

Survivalists take note. Astronomers may have found the most Earth-like alien planet to date, and it's located only a short distance away, cosmically speaking. The team says that the planet's proximity to its sun, coupled with the ease with which it was detected, suggests that the galaxy could be teeming with habitable worlds.
Most of the 500 or so planets astronomers have found orbiting other stars have fallen into the gas-giant class: very large worlds, some much bigger than Jupiter, that can't support life, because they lack solid surfaces, and because they orbit either too far from or much too close to their suns. The few rocky worlds discovered so far also orbit too near or far from stars to fall into what planetary scientists call the "habitable zone," in which liquid water—and therefore life—could exist.
But Gliese 581g looks like a game-changer. Detected from the minuscule amount of gravitational influence it exerts on its star, the planet lives a mere 20 light-years away in the constellation Libra. Gliese 581g is the sixth world discovered around its sun—and the fourth most distant. Yet its orbit brings it closer to its parent star than Mercury is to our sun. Still, it's squarely within the habitable zone, because the planet's star, which is a type known as a red dwarf, contains only about 30% of the sun's mass and shines with only about 1% of its brightness, the researchers will report in an upcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal.
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