A Planet Nowhere Near Mars

I can point out several objects and constellations in the night sky:

  • The Big Dipper
  • The Little Dipper
  • Cassiopeia
  • Orion
  • Orion’s Belt
  • Orion’s Pocket Protector
  • The Moon

I’m a bad astronomer – but not as bad as my friend Phil. He’s the best bad astronomer. Actually, he’s really good, really smart, and really entertaining. The other night, we talked about what was happening with a recent discovery:

The European Southern Observatory is reporting that they have found the most Earthlike planet yet orbiting another star. It has about 1.5 times the Earth’s diameter, and five times its mass. This makes it the smallest extrasolar planet yet found (two other planets have already been found orbiting that star, with 15 and 8 times Earth’s mass).

This is amazing enough! But it gets far, far better. The parent star, Gliese 581, is a red dwarf, meaning it’s smaller and cooler than the Sun. The as-yet unnamed planet orbits this star much closer than the Earth does the Sun; it stays about 11 million kilometers (6.7 million miles) from its star, while the Earth is 150 million km (93 million miles) from the Sun.

[Video archives for ustream recordings have been unstable, but I have no other way of extracting the sessions at this time. If you want to know more about what’s happening, we’re always playing live]