Two weeks ago, we learned of an exciting new discovery in our galaxy. The first sign of a possible Goldilocks planet orbiting one of our closest stellar neighbours. Not too hot and not too cold, with the possibility of liquid water, Gliese 581g was the sixth planet found to be orbiting the nearby star. The planet was reported to be three times larger than the Earth, sitting in a tidally locked orbit right in the middle of the habitable zone.
Alas, now it seems that another group of astronomers have observed the same star but they haven’t detected the wobble in the original observations that indicated the existence of the elusive new world. The development was announced at an exoplanet meeting in Turin this week. Worryingly, the new data has been collected over a longer period of time, but is still yet to be published.
Only yesterday I posted about the possibility of life on Mars following the discovery of a carbon-rich atmosphere in the planet’s distant past. The developments in astronomy can take years to be confirmed but have huge implications on the knowledge we have of our celestial neighbours. The questions that plague observers of the skies; is there life on other planets? How does life differ in space? Is it completely alien, or completely Earth-like? will continue to go unanswered until we can identify the possible locations so imperative for such life. Which is why Gliese 581g was so important, and why so many will find its possible non-existence such a disappointment.