US astronomers discover potentially habitable planet orbiting a nearby star

Associated Press video: Scientists report most Earth-like planet ever

Astronomers from the United States have discovered a potentially habitable planet orbiting a nearby red dwarf star, Gliese 581, reports the AFP via Yahoo News. According to astronomers from the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), and the Carnegie Institution of Washington, the planet named "Gliese 581g" may have water on its surface. Because there is life where there is water on Earth, Prof. Steven Vogt of UCSC told AP via Yahoo News, "Chances for life on (Gliese 581g) are 100 percent."

Aside from water, a favorable atmosphere is necessary for a planet to sustain life, scientists said in the AFP report. Gliese 581g lies in the middle of the habitable zone of the star it orbits. Its mass, which is three to four times that of the Earth, suggests that it has "enough gravity to hold on to an atmosphere," AFP paraphrased Vogt. It orbits its red dwarf star every 37 days.

AP reports that Gliese 581 is "about 120 trillion miles away so it would take several generations for a spaceship to get there." However, taking into consideration the vast universe, Vogt said the planet is "like right in our face, right next door to us."

The discovery of the planet was a result of 11 years of observing the Gliese 581, a short time for astronomers according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Working on the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey, the scientists who found the planet used the HIRES spectrometer on the Keck I Telescope.

For more on this story, read reports by the AFP, AP and NASA.

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