FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Monday, January 30, 2006

Astronomers Discover Most Earth-Like Planet Yet Oustide Solar System

The most Earth-like planet known to date outside the solar system has been discovered, orbiting a star 20,000 light years away.

Artist's conception of OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb and its sun

Most all of the 160 "exoplanets" known are gas giants similar in size and composition to Jupiter, but this planet has an icy, rocky surface. "The new planet confirms that we can now find small cool planets down to the mass of the Earth," said Professor Keith Horne of the University of St Andrews.

The planet, bearing the catchy name OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb, is a poor candidate for supporting life; with a distant orbit from its red-dwarf sun not unlike that of Pluto in our solar system, the planet's surface temperature is is a crisp -364 °F (-220 °C), far too cold to sustain even the most rugged life forms. The planet could have volcanic activity not unlike that of Jupiter's moon Europa that could generate internal heat, but that is pure speculation.

Nonetheless, the discovery of OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb has caused excitement in the space community, as it underscores our ability to spot Earth-like planets orbiting distant stars. Perhaps the next discovery will reveal a world much more friendly to life.

Source: Times Online (UK)