The conditions required for a world to be inhabitable like our own make finding one nearly impossible. It has to be a certain distance from the sun, there's the atmosphere to consider, air quality, number of moons — well, you get the idea. Amazingly, we may have just found one.
Astronomers Steven S. Vogt of the University of California, Santa Cruz and R. Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington lead the teams behind finding Gliese 581g (pronounced "Gleeza"). "It's been a long haul," said Vogt. "This is the first exoplanet that has the right conditions for water to exist on its surface."
Gliese 581g is three to four times the size of Earth and orbits its dim red star, Gliese 581, every 37 days. That puts it 14 million miles away from the star in what's termed the Goldilocks zone, where the planet is just the right distance for it not to be too hot or too cold. This varies from star to star, mind you — all life would probably be burned from the Earth's surface if we were that close to the sun.
"This is really the first Goldilocks planet," remarked Dr. Butler. Fellow astronomers still need to confirm the find, but if it's as good as the pair thinks than it could be the first potentially habitable world ever to be found. The only problem? It's pretty far away. Like, damn far. We're talking 20-light-years-away far.
There's also the fact that two of the half dozen other planets orbiting Gliese 581, which is a third of the mass of our own sun, have been put forth as possible Goldilocks candidates, according to the New York Times:
Two of Gliese's planets have already had their moment in the limelight as possible Goldilocks planets. One, known as Gliese 581c, circles just on the inner edge of the habitable zone and was thus thought to be habitable three years ago. But further analysis suggested that the greenhouse effect would turn it into a stifling hell. Another planet, just on the outer edge of the Goldilocks zone, is probably too cold.
"One is on the hot side, the other is on cold side," Dr. Vogt noted, with Gliese 581g being between these two. "It's bookended."
There may never be a manned expedition to Gliese 581g, but its potential for harboring or supporting life gives astronomers hope that there are more such planets out there that we haven't discovered yet because we're still limited by our technology. Make no mistake, dear readers, there are still a lot of worlds out there for us to see.
Still, who's going to volunteer to be frozen and shipped off to Gleeza? Let's see some hands!