IMAGE OF SCIENCE

Our closest cousin, 20 light years away

Artist’s impression of the new telluric exoplanet orbiting the red dwarf Gliese 581. ©ESO. Artist’s impression of the new telluric exoplanet orbiting the red dwarf Gliese 581.
©ESO.

The hunt is on for exoplanets that orbit stars other than our own Sun. Scarcely a week passes without the announcement that yet another one has been discovered, most of them huge gaseous stars. Much more rarely detected are the small “telluric” exoplanets. Last April, the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the European Southern Observatory, in La Silla (Chile), revealed the presence of a solid celestial body whose mass is no less than five times that of our own Blue Planet. This exoplanet is close to the dwarf star Gliese 581 (red in the background on the drawing), the heat from which provides it with a temperature of between 0 and 40°. This means the presence of water is possible. It is, in fact, Earth’s closest cousin to be discovered to date, albeit 20.5 light years away.


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