Artist’s impression of the planetary system around the red dwarf Gliese 581. Credit: ESO
They describe an experiment that would allow us to measure the density of the planet, the best way to find out if it’s a larger Earth (rocky planet) or a smaller version of Neptune.
Public domain image by NASA.
The problem is that for the experiment to work, the Canadian space telescope MOST (Microvariability and Oscillations of Stars) has to observe the planet, Gliese 581 c, when it crosses in front of its star, Gliese 581; the planes of its orbit would need to be aligned with the star from our position. The chances of that happening were about 2% on May 7th. I haven’t seen a report on whether or not the experiment was successful yet, but I’ll keep an eye out for it.
A rendering and a photo during testing of MOST, the Canadian telescope.
Before anyone asks, my interest in that planet and other astronomical objects is more based on increasing our understanding of the universe, not on some pipe dreams about moving there soon or replacing the Earth. We have so much to do here in the short and mid term to improve the human condition and the state of the biosphere, lets not kid ourselves about planets that are 20 light years away. They are interesting to study, but not on the agenda for now.