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Super Earth Discovered

By Matt Simpson - Thursday, February 16, 2012

Often when we discuss technology we are talking about small devices that we use from the consumer electronics industry. It’s easy to forget that technology has bigger goals that packing more pixels into our IPhones. Some of the biggest jobs of technology are in helping the pursuit of science.

Recently technology has helped scientists on one of the greatest pursuits in our time, the search for other planets that can support life. This is just a step on the road to finding that we are not alone in the universe.

The Search

The search for other life is not a new one. From people staring at the sky to radio telescopes, we have been looking to find out that we are not alone for most of the history of science. We have tried looking for other life through telescopes and listening for them on telescopes that measure the background noise in the cosmos. Recently, scientists have found a new method for searching for life. They use the idea that if earth can support life then if we find another planet that is earth like enough; it will also likely have evolved some form of life.

Granted the kind of life we expect to find won’t be the kind that can communicate with us, the odds of that are much less. Even a microscopic form of life however, would prove the theory that we are not alone and would let us all know we are not alone in the universe.

GJ667Cc

The name for the most recent potentially life bearing planet is GJ667Cc. Not the most auspicious name perhaps, but it has been found orbiting a relatively nearby star and is being called the best candidate so far in the history of planetary searches to be able to support life. It isn’t exactly like earth, however. In fact, it’s over 4 and half times larger than earth. The planet receives about 90% of the light that earth does, but it has a day cycle that is over 28 earth days long. The likely temperature of the planet’s atmosphere is also believed to be close to earth like given the high amount of infrared energy reaching the surface combined with the extended rotation cycle.

The actual surface temperature of the planet as well as whether or not there is liquid water on the planet, which is believed to be the best bet for life, cannot be confirmed until there are more detailed observations made of the planet’s surface.

The System

The planet orbits an m class dwarf star, much different than our own. This dwarf is part of a triple start system. The stars in this system differ from those in our sun in that they have a relatively low metal content. The same system has already yielded a likely planet that could have been earth like except for an orbit that takes it too close to its start and would therefore be too hot. There may also be a gas giant planet, much like our own Jupiter in orbit around this star. While this information is not in any way definitive, it certainly ensures that GJ667 will be under a great deal of scrutiny in years to come.

An interesting side note is the planet is only 22 light years away. For cosmic observations this makes it a close neighbor. However, for actually getting to the planet, it might as well be on the other side of the galaxy. No current technology allows us to travel across space fast enough to ever send probes, much less people, to this planet. However, this is the essence of technological advancement. That is making the things that were science fiction today into the science of tomorrow.




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