First Potentially Habitable Planet Outside the Solar System

An artist’s impression of a planet in orbit around a red dwarf. Public domain image created by NASA.

A multi-national team of Swiss, French and Por­tu­guese sci­en­tists have made a very important discovery: The first potentially habitable planet outside of our solar system.

The newly discovered extrasolar planet is the smallest yet discovered. It is estimated to have a radius 50% bigger than the Earth, so gravity on it would be about twice as strong as it is here, and it orbits a red dwarf called Gliese 581 which is 20.40 light years away (relatively close to us) in the constellation Libra.

The exoplanet is 14 times closer to its star than the Earth is from the Sun and so its year – a full orbit around the star – is only 13 Earth days long. But the good news is that since the red dwarf is “smaller [one third of the mass] and cool­er than the Sun, the plan­et nev­ertheless would lie in its hab­it­a­ble zone—the re­gion around a star with suit­a­ble tem­pe­r­a­tures for liq­uid wa­ter.”

Av­er­age tem­pe­r­a­tures on this “supe­r-Earth” lie be­tween 0 and 40 de­grees Cel­si­us (32 to 104 de­grees Fahren­heit), “and wa­ter would thus be liq­uid,” said Sté­phane Udry of Switz­er­land’s Ge­ne­va Ob­serv­a­to­ry, lead au­thor of a pa­pe­r re­port­ing the re­sult. “Mod­els pre­dict that the plan­et should be ei­ther rock­y—like our Earth—or cov­ered with oceans,” he added. […]

“Be­cause of its tem­pe­r­a­ture and rel­a­tive prox­im­i­ty, this plan­et will most prob­a­bly be a very im­por­tant tar­get of the fu­ture space mis­sions ded­i­cat­ed to the search for extra-terrestrial life. On the treas­ure map of the Uni­verse, one would be tempted to mark this plan­et with an X.”

All of this thanks to what seems to be an amazing instrument:

The find was pos­si­ble thanks to an in­stru­ment known as a spec­tro­graph on the Eu­ro­pe­an South­ern Ob­serv­a­to­ry’s 3.6-meter tel­e­scope at La Silla, Chil­e, ac­cord­ing to the group. The in­s­tru­ment, called the High Ac­cu­ra­cy Ra­di­al Ve­loc­i­ty for Plan­e­tary Search­er, is touted as one of the most suc­cess­ful tools for de­tecting exo­pla­n­ets to date.

The in­stru­ment meas­ured wig­gles in the star’s mo­tion cor­re­spond­ing to ve­loc­i­ty changes of just two to three me­ters per sec­ond—the speed of a brisk walk, ac­cord­ing to the Ge­ne­va Ob­serv­a­to­ry’s Mi­chel May­or, prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor for the in­stru­ment. Giv­en the re­sults so far, “Earth-mass plan­ets around red dwarfs are with­in reach” of dis­cov­ery, he pre­dicted.


The ar­row marks the ap­prox­i­mate lo­ca­tion of the red dwarf star Gliese 581 with re­spect to the con­stel­la­tion Li­bra vi­si­ble in the south­ern sky. Image credit:


17 Responses to “First Potentially Habitable Planet Outside the Solar System”

  1. abu ameerah Says:

    that’s it…i’m moving!

  2. sven Says:

    and we continue to shift ever farther from the Copernican view of the universe…lol

    perhaps we are not the only self designated “special” things around…

  3. bamaphilosopher Says:

    Wow, this is really cool information! Thanks for sharing it with us.

  4. plubius Says:

    Lol. Yea. I saw that on CNN just now.

  5. Mary Says:

    wow! mesmerizing!

  6. Video: Happy Earth Day! « Digital Headbutt Says:

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  7. southofreality Says:

    The more we (as humans) make these kinds of discoveries, the more we begin to think that maybe there’s more to living than just indulging in selfish pursuits. We marvel at the possibilities, no matter how unlikely it is that we’ll travel outside of our solar system in the next 100 years. It’s time to embrace the concept of manifest destiny and decide that universal exploration is one of our main reasons for existing.

  8. theperfectstranger Says:

    I read about this… it’s crazy this wasn’t all over the news here in the states. It would have been had it been Americans that discovered it.

  9. Walt Says:

    It’s a wonderful thing finding this, but what now. We need to take funding away from projects like this and put them into schools like Embry-Riddle. We must come up with some sort of exotic propulsion system that can get us there, ways to protect our astronauts, and most importantly, ways to get back. Until then, what good is finding this planet? One may say hope, but what good is a glass of water a thousand miles away from a dehidrated man?

  10. More on Gliese 581 c « Michael Graham Richard Says:

    […] In the May 3rd issue of Nature there is an article about the potentially habitable planet I wrote about here. […]

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  12. Rob Says:

    If there is water the tides would be a bitch, being that close to a large body (the red sun)

  13. Dean Albarne Says:

    If only we could stop waging wars on each other and stop wasting vast amounts of money on nuclear weapons,(which are too terrifying to use) then with all this saved money, (globally) I am sure we could make it out into deep space and satisfy our curiosity. There may be risks as no-one knows what’s out there, but I think it will be worth it. Every star and planet are totally individual as say a fingerprint or snow crystal. A myriad of life-forms could be waiting to be discovered, but we must remember what curiosity did to the proverbial cat.

  14. parvesh kumar gupta Says:

    This will be better to land human beings and inhabitate them, should earth become worse in future. Nonetheless we are now to start our manned mission to such planets

  15. honey Says:

    Better put your energy on exploring such planets and spend your energy on the manned mission to these planets rather than creating boundaries on the earth in the form of countries and destroying each other through weapons of mass destruction

  16. Clay Says:

    I think they needa put sum ppl on the planet and measure how much oxygen there is and see if there is plant life and fresh water and other life and if it has enough oxygen and plant life then one of them take their helmets off and see if they survive or not (of course it would be a volunteer) and if they survive they should start selling seats in the rockets to go there and live there and they could bring fish, animals, bugs, other plants (if there isnt already those things) and then start a new earth!

  17. rickysteve Says:

    I should really be studying. But I can’t leave this blog

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