03 Feb 2012

A team working with data from the European Southern Observatory have determined (Gliese) GJ 667Cc is a rocky planet, potentially habitable.  This planet orbits a star (in the constellation Scorpius) known as GC 667C, an M-class red dwarf star that puts out much less heat than our own Sun.  There are actually at least three planets orbiting close to the star, with GJ 667Cc just close enough to absorb a similar amount of light and energy as Earth.  It orbits the star once every 28.15 days and has a mass 4.5 times that of Earth, classifying at a super-Earth.  Astronomers can't confirm the possibility of water until they learn more about the planet's atmosphere.  

This discovery opens up other planet forming possibilities.  The other planets that orbit this same star, which is part of a three-star system (two of the stars orbit much farther away), include a possible gas-giant and another super-Earth with orbits of 75 days.  Experts have been skeptical of the possibility that M-class dwarf stars have planets with life due to potentially lethal doses of radiation that could be ejected from the host star.  This star contains a lower amount of heavy elements such as iron, carbon and silicon (the building blocks of terrestrial planets) than our Sun, but the possibilities of life still exist and show that there is the potential for such habitable worlds to exist in such a configuration not thought possible before.  It may also be close enough, that if the orbit were circular, the planet's rotation would slow until it matches the time it takes to orbit the star (tidally locked rotation).  This would mean the same side would always face the star, one side warm, the other icy.  So don't sign up for the generational star ship just yet.

A bit of trivia for comparison, our own Sun has a 10-billion year life span.  A red dwarf such as GJ 667C actually has a span that is in the realm of trillions of years.  The team estimates that GJ 667C is about 5 billion years old.  This discovery brings the total amount of Exoplanets discovered to around 755.  **Update, 3 more Jovian style planets were reported discovered as of February 4th, bringing this total to 758.

Source/Image Source: CBS News/Carnegie Institution for Science  

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