a group of scientists has published a paper arguing that M-class (Red) stars may be more hospitable to life than previously believed. There are a number of obstacles that life would overcome: M stars are dimmer, so the planet would need to be so close to the star...Well, yesterday a group of scientists announced finding a possibly Earth-like planet orbiting a red dwarf star, Gliese 581.
The planet, Gliese 581c, circles the star every 13 days at a distance of about seven million miles. According to models of planet formation developed by Dr. Sasselov and his colleagues, such a planet should be about half again as large as the Earth and composed of rock and water, what the astronomers now call a “super Earth.”What a strange world. Gliese 581c is probably tidally locked, meaning one side is constantly in daylight, and because it's so close, the local star would appear 20 times larger than our sun does in the sky, but the days would be dimmer and red.
The most exciting part of the find, Dr. Sasselov said, is that it “basically tells you these kinds of planets are very common.” Because they could stay geologically active for billions of years, he said he suspected that such planets could be even more congenial for life than Earth. Although the new planet is much closer to its star than Earth is to the Sun, the red dwarf Gliese 581 is only about a hundredth as luminous as the Sun. So seven million miles is a comfortable huddling distance.
As a side note, it's often said that the discovery of extraterrestrial life, more so intelligent life, would be a huge blow to the religions of the world. To which I say: please. These people don't believe in evolution, but we're going to convince them that we've found algae on Mars, or little green men orbiting a distant star?