The news was everywhere last week: European astronomers discovered a planet, just the right size, with Earth-like temperatures, orbiting within the so-called habitability zone of the red dwarf star Gliese 581. This faint star is located 120 trillion miles (20.5 light years) from our Sun. The discovery triggered speculation about a second Earth and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. As a brief aside, the name Gliese 581 refers to the stellar catalog of nearby stars first compiled by the late German astronomer Wilhelm Gliese.
The initial news report about the planet, now known as Gliese 581cits designated c because its the third rock from its suntriggered wild speculation by reporters and scientists alike. By weeks end, radio talk show hosts such as Art Bell had this distant planets surface covered with liquid water and crawling with lifeforms.
Whoa, lets pull back on the reigns of speculation and put this important news in perspective There's still more that is unknown about this new planet than is known. And it is very possible that this planet is deadly to life since we know little about the effects of solar radiation bombarding Gliese 581c; the planet is orbiting very close to a red dwarf star. Also, we should note that astronomers consider Mars to be within our Suns habitability zone. And as far as we can tell today, Mars is a lifeless body that cannot sustain humanlike without artificial means.
Gliese 581c was discovered using the European Southern Observatory's telescope in Chile. This observatory uses a unique device that splits a stars light spectrum to reveal wobbles in different wave lengths. Hence, the wobbles revealed the existence of planet Gliese 581c. To be fair, there is some reason for optimism about the new discovery.
Gliese 581c is only five times heavier than Earth which suggests that it could be rocky like our planet. This might also mean its similar to Jupiters largest moon Ganymede; that is, a planet composed of silicate rock and water ice, with an ice crust floating over a warmer ice mantle that might contain an ocean of liquid water.