Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Scientists discover a nearly Earth-sized planet

Scientists discover a nearly Earth-sized planet

An artist's impression of 'Planet e' , forground left, released by the European Organisation for Astronomical … .By JENNIFER QUINN, Associated Press Writer Jennifer Quinn, Associated Press Writer – Tue Apr 21, 1:50 pm ET
HATFIELD, England – In the search for Earth-like planets, astronomers zeroed in Tuesday on two places that look awfully familiar to home. One is close to the right size. The other is in the right place.

European researchers said they not only found the smallest exoplanet ever, called Gliese 581 e, but realized that a neighboring planet discovered earlier, Gliese 581 d, was in the prime habitable zone for potential life.

"The Holy Grail of current exoplanet research is the detection of a rocky, Earth-like planet in the 'habitable zone,'" said Michel Mayor, an astrophysicist at Geneva University in Switzerland.

An American expert called the discovery of the tiny planet "extraordinary"