There is still much to learn about the possibility of life on new "Super-Earth" planet, 581 c, discovered by the European Southern Observatory's telescope at La Silla, Chile, a mountain bordering the southern extremity of the Atacama desert, isolated and remote from any artificial light and dust sources (astronomy's worst enemies).
The La Silla telescope, which Swiss scientist Michel Mayor, who heads the European team in Geneva that announced the discovery of 581c, helped design, has a special instrument that splits light to find wobbles in different wave lengths, revealing the possible existence of other worlds.
"It is an absolutely fantastic instrument with great precision," Mayor said, but added that the planet's diameter, atmospheric makeup and contents have yet to be confirmed. Stephane Udry, the discovery team's lead author also based in Geneva, speculated that the new planet is probably full of liquid water, but conceded that he bases the conjecture on how planets form, not on any evidence.
Mayor predicted that NASA's Terrestrial Planet Finder and the European Space Agency's Darwin satellite would make increasingly significant contributions in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.He said these institutions will be able to directly look for "signatures of life" on other planets, similar to the high presence of oxygen in our atmosphere, within 15 to 20 years.
Mayor said many more planets meeting scientists' requirements for habitability would be found, but that that the most significant short-term discovery would be that of a low-mass planet even more similar to Earth. 581 c is about five times heavier than our planet, but is still the smallest found exoplanet, or one that is outside our solar system.
Leading astronomers are describing the discovery of the new planet as a big step in the search for life in the universe because it is just the right size, might have water in liquid form, and in galactic terms is relatively nearby at 120 trillion miles away.
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