|Photo courtesy ESO|
This week, scientists announced the discovery of what some believe is the most promising earth-like planet yet found outside of our solar system, some 20.5 light-years away in the contellation Libra.
By measuring the miniscule amount of “wobble” a star has, astronomers can conclude the amount of gravitational pull an orbiting planet is exerting on the star and where and how massive that planets may be. One such star, Gliese 581, has a wobble that indicates the presence of a planet—Gliese 581-C—stuck right in the “Goldilocks zone” where the conditions are neither too hot nor too cold but "just right" to potentially have not only habitable temperatures but, more importantly, liquid water.
The star itself is much smaller and cooler than our own sun, but the planet orbits at a comparatively close distance—seven million miles compared to the earth's 91 million-mile solar orbit. However, too many factors remain unknown, including the makeup of the atmosphere, the actual size of the planet (only its mass is calculable from the star's wobble) or if the planet's water may have dried up when the star was warmer than it is now. And yet, it’s the most promising earth-like planet found so far, and its relative proximity to our solar system suggests that many more may exist beyond the reach or current instruments.
The current uncertainties, however, haven’t slowed the gambling
community from putting money down on the findings. Enterprising
British bookies (is there anything they don't have a line on?)
have put the odds at extraterrestrial life being found on this planet
somewhere between 1,000-1 and 100-1. The only parameters of the bet
are that the British Prime Minister must admit to the existence of
extraterrestrial life within one year of the bet being placed. Gambling junkies might want to hold onto their money a bit longer,
since the technology to accurately detect such things does not yet
exist, not to mention the planet is 20.5 lightyears away, which, while
relatively close, is still 20.5 lightyears away. —Dan Smith