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New planet may sustain human life

By Joshua Bennett
On February 28, 2013

  • Getting connected. Students mingle with potential employers tto determine their future career paths.

Researchers from the University of California at Santa Cruz have recently discovered hundreds of potentially habitable planets within 12 to 30 light years from the sun, and one may even be able to sustain life.
 The researchers found the planets using a highly sensitive technique that combined data from more than 6,000 observations from three different telescopes.
"It's really obvious the earth is running out of natural resources, so I guess the next step in human evolution is to go elsewhere and find another place where our species can live on," said Kawana Scott, sophomore community health major.
One of the planets, orbiting the red dwarf star Gilease 581, named Gliease 581g, has a rocky surface with enough gravity that could help it maintain a stabile atmosphere, astronomers believe.
Unlike the previously discovered planets, Gilease 581g lies squarely in the region of space where just might be able to thrive.
They calculate that 40 percent of red dwarfs have a rocky planet not much bigger than Earth orbiting the "habitable zone," in which liquid water can exist.
"I don't think we would need to go to other planets because of my Christian beliefs," said Amber Villegas, junior mechanical engineering major.
However, some students agree with the research and hope the new discoveries can help future humans continue to thrive.
"I don't think it matters now for us but I hope they keep it up and colonize more planets so my great great great grandkids can have a place to live if the Earth is destroyed," said senior finance major Gaati Werema.
The researchers have found planets on both sides of the habitable zone. Some were considered too hot while others were considered too cold, they believe on the other hand that Gilease 581 is just right.
One side of the planet is always facing it star. This means that the far side of the planet is constantly in darkness.
The average temperature on the planet is estimated to be between -31C to -12C, but the ground temperature would vary from blazing hot on the bright side and freezing on the dark side.
Scientists at NASA believe that where there is water there also could be life, although being in the habitable zone is no guarantee that life has evolved on a planet.
Red dwarfs are cooler than the sun, which means planets must orbit close to their parent stars to be warm enough to be habitable.
However, red dwarfs are known to be subject to stellar eruptions or flares, which may bathe the planet in X-rays or ultraviolet radiation, and which may make life there less likely according to astronomers.
Even with all the new planetary discoveries astronomy professor Brian Kundick believes humans are still not close to colonizing planets like Gilease 581g.
"It's hard to say if we will colonize other planets soon because it seems we take one step back every time we go further. It may be two centuries from now or this century but I think we are still far off. A lot goes in to colonizing planets, we still need to research more on that subject," Kundick said. 

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