Scientists discover Earth-like planet that may contain water
A rocky planet, similar to Earth's size, has been discovered located in the Milky Way not to far from Earth, according to the San Francisco Chronicle (http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/04/25/MNGRQPEQFR1.DTL).
Scientists say the planet lies within its star's habitable zone, where life and oceans could possibly exist. So far, this planet is the smallest "exoplanet" (planet outside our solar system) of nearly 200 discovered by scientists in the last few decades.
The discovery has sparked excitement among scientists internationally.
The planet's sun is a red dwarf, a common variety of star that is much smaller and less hot than our sun. The sun is in the constellation Libra, and lies on 20.5 light years away, a very short distance in astronomical terms.
Because the sun is so cool, the planet is much closer to it than Earth, and orbits its sun every 13 days. The average temperature on the planet ranges from 34 to 104 degrees. The planet is an estimated 5 times the size of Earth.
Some scientists were skeptical. The planet could be gaseous, icy, or rock-like. It will take around two decades of tests to determine if there is water on it.
According to an AP report, most of the speculation about water and life on this planet is not confirmed and based on no hard evidence (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18316810/).
The planet was discovered by a group of European scientists, led by a Swiss man. The discovery was made from an observatory in Chile.
I really liked the Chronicle story because it focused specifically on the discovery and provided a lot of solid, interesting factual information about the planet. This was one instance where I was reading and I didn't want to know to much context about how it was found or by whom. I thought the Chronicle took the right focus. The AP story focused too much on the scientists, which detracted from what was really newsworthy in the story. Both stories did a good job dumbing down the scientific language in concise, understandable terms. The comparisons to Earth also helped illuminate the importance of the discovery. If there was one key problem, it's that dissenting opinions from scientists who don't think this planet could support life were put aside or marginalized.