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Last updated at 12:24 GMT, Tuesday, 01 February 2011

Scientists discover earth-like planet

Summary

1 October 2010

Astronomers have discovered a planet that could support crucial conditions needed for life. They say it could be more Earth-like than any other found outside our solar system.

Reporter:
Neil Bowdler

An artist's impression of Gliese 581g and its parent star

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Report

Gliese 581g is the sixth planet to be found circling a dwarf star some 20 light-years away, in the constellation of Libra. On paper it looks good – three times the mass of the Earth with possibly a rocky surface and enough gravity to hold on to an atmosphere.

The researchers also promised shirt-sleeve weather in some regions, but not everywhere. One side of the planet is almost always in sunshine; the other almost always in darkness and estimated temperatures range from minus four degrees Celsius to a very hot 71 degrees. A year meanwhile would go by in just 37 days.

Of course, whether life could really be supported on Gliese 581g will need much more investigation and, most probably, technologies which don't exist yet. But the astronomers say planet hunting is getting easier and they were surprised how quickly they detected the tell-tale signs of this distant body, using ground-based telescopes.

Neil Bowdler, BBC science reporter

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Vocabulary

dwarf star

type of star similar to our sun

light-years

units for measuring long distances in space (how far light travels in a year)

constellation

group of stars that form a shape in the sky

on paper

in theory

mass

size or weight

rocky surface

ground covered in rocks

shirt-sleeve weather

warm weather where a sweater or coat is not needed

hunting

searching

detected

discovered or noticed

tell-tale signs

obvious clues

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