French scientists believe that a planet orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 581 could sustain life similar to Earth.
Twenty light years away is a small red star. Orbiting this sun are six planets that range in size from slightly smaller than Earth to about the size of Neptune. Several of these planets fall within the star's "Goldilocks" zone, neither too hot from proximity to the star nor too cold from being too far. If a planet is too hot, all water would be steam but if its too cold then it would be ice, neither of which can support life. Luckily, a group of astronomers from the National Centre for Scientific Research in France believe that the fourth planet - unimaginatively labeled Gliese 581d - is just right.
"With a dense carbon dioxide atmosphere - a likely scenario on such a large planet - the climate of Gliese 581d is not only stable against collapse but warm enough to have oceans, clouds and rainfall," the report said.
Last September, a group from Australia announced the discovery of a sixth plant in the Gliese 581 system that also fell within the habitable zone. That planet was dubbed Zarmina's World after the lead researcher's wife, but its existence is still in question.
581d is much bigger than Zarmina - roughly 7 times Earth's mass - and the French have used computational models to estimate that its thick atmosphere would be able to retain heat but would result in conditions very different than our home planet.
"The denser air and thick clouds would keep the surface in a perpetual murky red twilight, and its large mass means that surface gravity would be around double that on Earth," the French statement read.
The bad news is that even though the Gliese 581 is fairly close to Earth, cosmically speaking, it would still take a very long time for us to get there. Even if we could travel at light speed, which last I checked was still technically impossible due to Einstein's little theory, it would still take us 20 years to reach the Gliese 581 system. If we used the same technology that was used to launch the shuttle Endeavor this week, the journey to Gliese would take almost 300,000 years.
Better pack some beef jerky!