Two news items caught my attention today. Though they don’t actually have anything to do with each other, reading them one after the other evokes a certain comic-book planet:
An international team of astronomers from Switzerland, France and Portugal have discovered the most Earth-like planet outside our Solar System to date. The planet has a radius only 50 percent larger than Earth and is very likely to contain liquid water on its surface.
Unlike our Earth, this planet takes only 13 days to complete one orbit round its star. It is also 14 times closer to its star than the Earth is from the Sun. However, since its host star, the red dwarf Gliese 581, is smaller and colder than the Sun – and thus less luminous – the planet lies in the habitable zone, the region around a star where water could be liquid.
“We have estimated that the mean temperature of this super-Earth lies between 0 and 40 degrees Celsius, and water would thus be liquid,” said Stiphane Udry from the Geneva Observatory, Switzerland and lead-author of the paper in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
The planet is about 20 light years away, definitely visiting distance. It would definitely be a strange new world, but the presence of water (and all that implies) puts it at the top of the list of Places To Investigate.
In other news, a new mineral was discovered in a mine in Serbia:
“Towards the end of my research I searched the web using the mineral’s chemical formula – sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide – and was amazed to discover that same scientific name, written on a case of rock containing kryptonite stolen by Lex Luther from a museum in the film Superman Returns.
“The new mineral does not contain fluorine (which it does in the film) and is white rather than green but, in all other respects, the chemistry matches that for the rock containing kryptonite.”
Super-Earths, kryptonite… it just goes to show that truth is stranger than fiction. Now where’s that jet pack I ordered?