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Astronomers found a potentially habitable planet within the Goldilocks zone

Gliese 581 System

 After a decade of research and observations of the nearby red dwarf star Gliese 581, a team of astronomers in University of California Santa Cruz and the Carnegie Institution of Washington revealed an earth-like planet (from the photo: fourth planet, G) that could sustain life.

Gliese 581-G planet with a mass of three to four times that of Earth orbits a nearby star that places it squarely in the middle of the star’s "habitable zone."  Its mass indicates that it is probabaly a rocky planet with a definite surface and enough gravity to hold on to an atmosphere.

Gliese 581 is located 20 light years away from Earth in the constellation Libra.  The orbits of planets in the Glieze 581 system are compared to those of our own solar system.   Gliese 581 star has about 30% the mass of our sun, and the outermost planet is closer to its star than we are to the sun.

"Our findings offer a very compelling case for a potentially habitable planet," said Professor Steven Vogt. "The fact that we were able to detect this planet so quickly and so nearby tells us that planets like this must be really common."

Vogt, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, and Paul Butler of Carnegie Institution lead the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey.

In their report includes the discovery of two new planets around Gliese 581 which brings a total number of known planets around this star to six.  These planets have nearly-circular orbits like our solar system.

Two previously detected planets lie at the edges of the habitable zone, one on the hot side (planet c) and the other on the cold side (planet d).

Planet G however lies at the middle of the habitable zone which made the astronomers believe it potentially a life-bearing planet.  One side of planet G is always facing the star and basking in perpetual daylight, while the side facing away from the star is in perpetual darkness.  One effect of this is to stabilize the planet’s surface climates, according to Vogt. The most habitable zone on the planet’s surface would be the line between shadow and light (known as the "terminator")..

Link below for a video coverage courtesy of CNN news live:

http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/us/2010/09/30/nr.goldilocks.planet.cnn