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Gliese 581c
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Astronomical Object
    Discovered April 24, 2007
    Extrasolar planet orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 581
    Located in the constellation Libra
    20.4 light years from our solar system
    Mass 5 times that of earth
    Radius 1.5 times that of earth
    Average surface temperatures of 0-40 C (32-104 F)
    It may be tidally locked to its star with one side always lit and one side always in the dark.
    If so, then the lit hemisphere will be extremely hot and the dark hemisphere extremely cold, with only a thin 'twilight' zone between them with hospitable temperatures.
    Volatile compounds such as water might evaporate on the sunward side and condense on the dark half, with the entire atmosphere eventually becoming frozen into ice caps on the dark side.
    It may take several years before equipment is developed that is sensitive enough to detect possible signs of life from the planet.
    It could use a zippier name.
    It is the first extrasolar planet discovered in the habitable zone where liquid water might exist.
    Its discovery relatively close to our solar system suggests that earthlike planets may be more common than previously thought.
    If it has a large, stable atmosphere, heat should circulate more evenly, making much of the surface potentially habitable.
    Its year is equivalent to 13 earth days, so time really zips along.
    It may give us a long term backup plan if the whole 'save the earth' thing doesn't work out.

Credit: C. Fishel


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