Only 20 light years away.
The discovery was announced today by a team of European astronomers, using a telescope in La Silla in the Chilean Andes.
The Earth-like planet that could be covered in oceans and may support life is 20.5 light years away, and has the right temperature to allow liquid water on its surface.
This remarkable discovery appears to confirm the suspicions of most astronomers that the universe is swarming with Earth-like worlds.
We don’t yet know much about this planet, but scientists believe that it may be the best candidate so far for supporting extraterrestrial life.
The new planet, which orbits a small, red star called Gliese 581, is about one-and-a-half times the diameter of the Earth.
It probably has a substantial atmosphere and may be covered with large amounts of water – necessary for life to evolve – and, most importantly, temperatures are very similar to those on our world. …
This new planet – known for the time being as Gliese 581c – is a midget in comparison, being about 12,000 miles across (Earth is a little under 8,000 pole-to-pole).
It has a mass five times that of Earth, probably made of the same sort of rock as makes up our world and with enough gravity to hold a substantial atmosphere.
Astrobiologists – scientists who study the possibility of alien life – refer to a climate known as the Goldilocks Zone, where it is not so cold that water freezes and not so hot that it boils, but where it can lie on the planet’s surface as a liquid.
In our solar system, only one planet – Earth – lies in the Goldilocks Zone. Venus is far too hot and Mars is just too cold. This new planet lies bang in the middle of the zone, with average surface temperatures estimated to be between zero and 40c (32-102f). Lakes, rivers and even oceans are possible.
It is not clear what this planet is made of. If it is rock, like the Earth, then its surface may be land, or a combination of land and ocean.
Another possibility is that Gliese 581c was formed mostly from ice far from the star (ice is a very common substance in the Universe), and moved to the close orbit it inhabits today.
In which case its entire surface will have melted to form a giant, planet-wide ocean with no land, save perhaps a few rocky islands or icebergs.
The surface gravity is probably around twice that of the Earth and the atmosphere could be similar to ours.