Washington: A team of astronomers has discovered a new planet that could have water on its surface, and therefore could support life.
"Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say, my own personal feeling is that the chances of life on this planet are 100 percent," said Steven Vogt of the University of California during a press briefing.
"I have almost no doubt about it," he added.
Discovered using one of the telescopes of the WM Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, the planet is probably 30 percent larger than Earth and orbits a relatively small star, Gliese 581 in the constellation Libra the Scales.
"By determining the orbit of this planet, we can deduce that its surface temperature is similar to that of Earth," said University of Hawaii`s Nader Haghighipour.
This means that at least some of any water on its surface and in its atmosphere will be in liquid form rather than ice or vapour.
The team believes the new planet named Gliese 581g has a mass three to four times that of Earth, and orbits its star in just under 37 Earth days. It`s probably a rocky planet with enough gravity to hold on to its atmosphere.
"As we collect more and more data about how these stars are moving, we expect to find many more planets with potentially Earth-like conditions," said Haghighipour.
"Our findings offer a very compelling case for a potentially habitable planet," said Steven Vogt, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and co-leader of the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey.
The team that made the discovery is led by Steven Vogt of the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) and Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Other team members include UCSC associate research scientist Eugenio Rivera, and Gregory Henry and Michael Williamson of Tennessee State University.