Upon first hearing of the “Goldilocks Planet,” I envisioned a world with a pastoral population of cabin-dwelling bears. That would have made a great story! In the words of Chapman, “Happy, I was, as an astronomer, when a new planet swims into his ken!” As it turns out, the 21st century poets were alluding to Goldilocks’ remarks about Porridge; you remember, I’m sure: “Too Hot!” the yellow-tressed girl exclaimed. Then, “Too cold!” Finally, at last, “Just right!” and she ate it all up!
A new planet, now called Gliese 581g, has been discovered in the “Goldilocks Zone” (the just right zone) of red-dwarf star Gliese 581. “Just right” in this instance, meaning that the new planet is at a distance from the star, and has other attributes, that may make it “just right” for human habitation. In fact, there may already be human-like life forms living and thriving on the planet.
The planet was discovered by a team of astronomers led by Steven Vogt of the University of California, and Paul Butler of Washington’s Carnegie Institution. These scientists credit the planet with the proper mass to retain liquid water, and an atmosphere which could support life. In the words of Vogt, the planet, seen in the constellation Libra, “..could be the Goldilocks planet, neither too hot nor too cold.”
We recall that in his just released book, entitled “Grand Design,” that the world’s leading physicist, Stephen Hawkings, suggests that we locate a planet which might fill the need for an escape destination, in the event of discord on our Earth. Gleise 581g, about 20 light years from our home, might be just the one to fill that need. Hawkins reminds us not to “Keep all our eggs in one basket.”
Co-discoverer Vogt tells us that Gleise 581g has a mass three to four times that of Earth, and orbits the star in about 37 days. One side of the planet, Vogt says, faces the star and is in perpetual daylight; the other side is in never-ending darkness.
The 11-year-long research was sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation. The observation was conducted at the WM Keck Observatory in Hawaii.