Possible Earthlike Planet Found
May 10, 2007 -- Just over 20 light years from Earth, a planet has been discovered by a team of scientists who theorize that it may be able to support life. The planet, named Gliese 581 C, is located neither too close nor too far from its parent star for any water that might exist there to freeze or boil off. This is important, as water is a key requirement for life as we know it.
The newly found world is roughly 50 percent bigger than Earth, and has five times as much mass. As a result, it has been dubbed “super-Earth”. This super-Earth is actually the smallest planet discovered outside our solar system, and is just one of three found in the Gliese 581 solar system, one being a large, Jupiter-like planet, and the other similar to the super-Earth except it lies outside the star’s habitable zone where the planet's temperature could no longer sustain liquid water. But it's Gliese 581 C's potential for water that has scientists so excited.
The National Academies have done several reports that examine current and planned scientific efforts to explore the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. One such report, Life in the Universe: An Assessment of U.S. and International Programs in Astrobiology, assesses NASA's astrobiology program and makes recommendations to improve it.
Another report, The Astrophysical Context of Life, continues the assessment and examines how to better integrate various scientific research disciplines in order to focus NASA’s astrobiology program. Also, a project currently under way and scheduled for completion this summer, The Limits of Organic Life of Planetary Systems, considers the possibility of alternative or non-standard chemistries for the existence of life in our solar system and beyond, and offers a guide to agencies and organizations that decide to fund such research.