Has the question of life beyond earth been answered finally by Gliese 581?

The cosmos never ceases to amaze us with its sheer size and splendor. The star studded sky above us and the vast unexplored eternity that lay beyond us have always captured both human mind and human heart. While the glitz and shine of the stars and the spectacular celestial aura have drawn us towards them, it is impossible to deny that our space programs are barely at a stage of infancy, with 99.9% of the universe still left unexplored. It is this magic of finding something new each day, each moment, each time you point your telescope in to the sky that hold our imagination and ignites our senses. The universe around us is so kind that you can randomly look at any part of it and it still will give you a surprise or two. You can call that either our luck or our sheer ignorance.

But since ages, the question that has intrigued us the most is, ‘Are we alone in the universe?’ This one question has always baffled our thoughts, challenged our imagination and of course made Spielberg in to a movie making icon. But off late scientists are starting to believe more and more that the answer to that question is ‘No’. The discovery of Gliese 581 was one of the most exciting moments in extra-solar planetary researcher. The star is said to be having a planetary system and now researchers claim that they have found two planets that might be conducive to existence of life on them.

Astronomers have found an Earth-massed planet orbiting within the habitable zone of a distant star. This would mean that liquid water could be on its surface – and maybe even life! Any planet needs to be at a right distance from its own sun, so as to be able to maintain conditions that help the sustenance of life on it. If it is too close to the star, it looses the water on its surface due to excessive heat and if it is too far, it might be too cold to harbor life. Two separate teams of astronomers have found out in two different ways that the system of Gliese 581 has planets in the habitable zone. They did this by calculating and comparing the position of Earth and the planet on which they believe life could exist.

The first team lead by Franck Selsis calculated that the inner boundary of this habitable zone around Gliese 581 should be somewhere between 0.7 and 0.9 astronomical units and the outer zone should be between 1.7 and 2.4 AU. At least one planet orbiting Gliese 581 falls within this range. Now that is indeed exciting news. I always thought that we would find life beyond earth first on Titan- Saturn’s largest moon. But I still think the problem is that we look for life that is organic-similar to ourselves in nature. Why can’t life have evolved out of Platinum and gold somewhere else in the cosmos? Now that would be ‘Rich life’, if not intelligent.

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