Friday, June 8, 2007

Gliese of Orion

After being scrutinized by astronomers back in December 2006, Gliese 581 – a star in the constellation Orion – has been found to contain a couple of Earth-like planets.

By: Vanessa Uy

Unlike the “romantic” names of the planets of our Solar System - which are named after ancient Roman gods – Gliese 581c might seem “unromantic.” Named after the red dwarf star Gliese 581 in the constellation Orion and the “c” means the third planet from the said star. This planet from outside of our Solar System is the best hope we have so far of finding life outside of our own planet. Discovered by a team of Swiss astronomers, Gliese 581c is one of the latest batches of extrasolar Earth-like planets. Glise 581c is located 20 light-years away from us. It’s radius is 50% larger than that of Earth with a surface temperature of 0 to 40 degrees Celsius which easily allows water to exist in liquid form. Like Earth, Gliese 581c orbits in the region of it’s parent star called the “habitable zone” thus raising the prospects for Earth-like life. Gliese 581c is so far away that it cannot be viewed directly by existing optical telescopes. The data on this planet was recently provided via advanced spectroscopic analyses of the starlight using the European Southern Observatory in Chile. In reality, Gliese 581c was “seen” by noting the parent star’s spectroscopic anomaly on its angular momentum. Dr. Gero Rupprect of the European Southern Observatory in Chile developed the spectrometer that “saw” Gliese 581c.

Another Earth-like planet that orbits the red dwarf star Gliese 581 was also recently discovered. Physicist Werner von Bloh discovered an Earth-sized planet but it orbits much closer to the parent star compared to Gliese 581c. As a consequence, this new planet’s rate of rotation is extremely slow to non-existent that this planet always keeps one side permanently facing it’s parent star while the other side faces away in perpetual darkness causing very extreme climate of cyclones on its sunlit side. This quirk is due to the consequence of the conservation of angular momentum that planets situated very close to their parent stars have an extremely slow rate of rotation-if at all- like our own Mercury.

For the time being, the red dwarf star Gliese 581 in the constellation Orion will be keeping astronomers hunting for Earth-like planets elsewhere in the universe busy for a while. As Mark Snow said: “The truth is out there.”

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