Thursday, April 26, 2007

Earth's possible soul mate

Like countless stargazers on our globe, I'm thrilled and fascinated by the discovery of an Earth-like planet associated with a red dwarf, a mere 20.5 light years away, whose unromantic name is Gliese 581.

The discovery was made by a research team at the Geneva Observatory headed by Stéphane Udry and Michel Mayor. A prominent member of the team, Thierry Forveille, works in nearby Grenoble.

For the moment, our knowledge of the nature of Earth's possible twin is frustratingly sparse. A telescope used by European astronomers in Chile has been able to prove that the planet exists, and that it is half as big again as Earth. Calculations suggest that the mean temperature lies in the comfortable range of zero to 40 degrees Celsius. But no present-day technology is capable of looking directly at the planet.

I'm constantly amazed to realize that so many gigantic scientific and technological breakthroughs have occurred during the 66 years that I've been spending as a visitor aboard the planet Earth. In other words, I like to think of myself as a humble but privileged visitor. After all, I arrived on the planet at just the right time to learn computing, purchase a Macintosh and have fun building websites.

[Click here to see my latest website, which has nothing to do with scientific and technological breakthroughs. I'm merely trying to help a friend sell his storm-damaged restaurant in Pont-en-Royans.]

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