Exoplanet search heats up

There has been a number of breakthroughs recently in both our search for habitable exoplanets and our understanding of how planets may populate the universe in general.

The nearby solar system Gliese which is only 20 or so light years away (in Galactic terms a next door neighbour) is again find itself under close scrutiny after a recent study by  the Cornell University have confirmed that Gliese 581d is the first confirmed "terrestial-mass" exoplanet within a habitable zone.

It is suggested that the planet is in theory a very good candidate to support life and could in theory have liquid water and a stable atmosphere with temperatures above 0 degrees Celsius but is likely to be "tidally locked" (one side of the planet permanently facing the star while the other side is in perpetual darkness like our own moon).

At the same time while SETI is having to scale back it's own efforts to search for signs of extra-terresial life due to budget cuts they have decided to focus on looking for any signs of life on 86 planets that have been confirmed as being within the "goldilocks zone" (planets that are the right size and distance from their star to have likely surface temperatures of between 0 and 100 degrees Celsius).

Each of these planets will be scanned by the worlds largest steerable telescope, the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Radio Telescope in West Virginia and then the subsequent data will be offered to the people signed up to the [email protected] project to crunch the information using their home computers.

As if that wasn't exciting enough an international team of astronomers also claim to have found 10 "free floating" planets that don't orbit any star and are not part of any solar system. Based upon their research and the number of rogue planets found in thier initial investigations they theorise that these type of planets could in fact be twice as popular as planets that form part of a solar system, throwing what we know about the volume of planets out there into serious disarray, you can read more about this at the BBC News website.

Exoplanet search heats up