Gliese 581 c

Gliese 581 c

Planetbox begin
name = Gliese 581 c
Planetbox star
star = Gliese 581
constell = Libra
RA = RA|15|19|26
DEC = DEC|−07|43|20
dist_ly = 19.9
dist_pc = 6.12
class = M2.5V
Planetbox orbit
period = 12.93cite encyclopedia | title = Planet : Gl 581 c | author=Schneider, J. | encyclopedia = The Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia | url = | accessdate = 2008-10-05]
eccentricity = 0.16±0.06
semimajor = 0.073
long_peri = 267±24
ang_dist = 11.661
t_peri = 2,452,993.38±0.96
semi-amp = 3.03±0.17cite journal | url= |author=Udry et al.|title=The HARPS search for southern extra-solar planets, XI. Super-Earths (5 and 8 M) in a 3-planet system |journal = Astronomy and Astrophysics | volume=469 | issue=3 | year=2007 | pages=L43–L47 | doi=10.1051/0004-6361:20077612 ]
Planetbox character
mass_earth = >5.03
Planetbox discovery
discovery_date = 4 April 2007
24 April 2007 (announced)
discoverers = Stéphane Udry et al.
discovery_method = Radial velocity
discovery_site = flag|Switzerland

Gliese 581 c (pronEng|ˈgliːzə) is a "super-earth", a large terrestrial extrasolar planet, orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 581. Assuming the planet's mass is close to the lower limit determined by radial velocity measurements (the true mass is unknown), it would be the smallest known extrasolar planet around a main sequence star to date. [cite encyclopedia|url= |title=Catalog of Nearby Exoplanets - Planets Table | |date=2008-01-26 |accessdate=2008-10-05] Gliese 581 c generated interest because it was initially reported to be the first potentially Earth-like planet in the (extremophile life forms) habitable zone of its star, with a temperature right for liquid water on its surface, and by extension, potentially capable of supporting Earth-like life. [cite news | url= | title=Planet Hunters Edge Closer to Their Holy Grail | last=Than | first=Ker | date=2007-02-24 | | accessdate=2007-04-29] However, further research on the potential effects of the planetary atmosphere casts doubt upon the (extremophile life form) habitability of Gliese 581 c and indicates that the third planet in the system, Gliese 581 d, is a better candidate for habitability.cite journal | url= | author=Selsis et al. | title=Habitable planets around the star Gl 581? | journal=Astronomy and Astrophysics | volume=476 | issue=3 | year=2007 | pages =1373 – 1387 | doi=10.1051/0004-6361:20078091] cite journal|url=|author=von Bloh et al.|year=2007|title=The Habitability of Super-Earths in Gliese 581 |journal=Astronomy and Astrophysics|volume=476|issue=3|pages=1365–1371|doi=10.1051/0004-6361:20077939| accessdate=2008-08-20 ] The planet is astronomically close, at 19.9 light years (188 trillion km or 117 trillion miles) from Earth in the direction of the constellation of Libra.cite news |url= |title=New 'super-Earth' found in space |accessdate = 2007-04-25 |date=25 April 2007 |publisher=BBC News ] [cite web|url=|title=HIP 74995|author=van Leeuwen, F.|work=Hipparcos, the New Reduction|year=2007|accessdate=2008-08-18] This distance, along with the declination and right ascension coordinates, give the planet's exact location in our galaxy. Its star is identified as Gliese 581 by its number in the Gliese Catalogue of Nearby Stars; it is the 87th closest known star system to the Sun. [cite web | title = The 100 Nearest Stars | publisher = RECONS | url = | accessdate = 2007-05-10]


The discovery of the planet by the team of Stéphane Udry University of Geneva's Observatory in Switzerland was announced on April 24, 2007.cite news | url= | title=Major Discovery: New Planet Could Harbor Water and Life | last=Than | first=Ker | date=2007-04-24 | | accessdate=2007-04-29] The team used the HARPS instrument (an echelle spectrograph) on the European Southern Observatory 3.6 m Telescope in La Silla, Chile, and employed the radial velocity technique to identify the planet's influence on the star. The Canadian-built MOST space telescope was used to conduct a follow-up study over the next six weeks. No transit was detected over this time, so a direct measurement of the planet has not yet been possible; however, the star's apparent magnitude changed very little, indicating that it provides a stable source of light and heat to Gliese 581 c.cite web|url= |title=Boring Star May Mean Livelier Planet | |date= |accessdate=2008-09-15]

The team released a paper dated April 27, 2007, published in the July, 2007 journal "Astronomy and Astrophysics". In the paper they also announced the discovery of another planet in the system, Gliese 581 d, with a minimum mass of 7.7 Earth masses and a semi-major axis of 0.25 astronomical units.

Physical characteristics


The existence of Gliese 581 c and its mass have been measured by the radial velocity method of detecting extrasolar planets. The mass of a planet is calculated by the small periodic movements around a common centre of mass between the host star Gliese 581 and its planets. Because the "wobbling" of Gliese 581 is a result of all planets in its system, the calculation of the mass of Gliese 581c depends on the presence of other planets in the Gliese 581 system and on the inclination of the orbital plane with respect to Earth. Using the known minimum mass of the previously detected Gliese 581 b, and assuming the existence of Gliese 581 d, Gliese 581 c has a mass at least 5.073 times that of Earth. The mass of the planet cannot be very much larger than this or the system would be dynamically unstable. Dynamical simulations of the Gliese 581 system which assume the orbits of the planets are coplanar indicate that for inclinations less than about 10° the system would be unstable.cite journal|author=Beust, H. et al.|title=Dynamical evolution of the Gliese 581 planetary system|journal=Astronomy and Astrophysics|volume=479|issue=1|year=2008|pages=277–282|doi=10.1051/0004-6361:20078794] For Gliese 581 c, this corresponds to an upper bound of about 29 Earth masses, or about 70% more massive than Neptune. [This is obtained by dividing the m sin i of 5.073, by "Sin(10/180 * PI)" on a radian-configured processor.]


Since Gliese 581 c has not been detected directly, there are no measurements of its radius. Furthermore, the radial velocity method used to detect it, only puts a lower limit on the planet's mass, which means theoretical models of planetary radius and structure can only be of limited use. However, assuming a random orientation of the planet's orbit, the true mass is likely to be close to the measured minimum mass.

Assuming that the true mass is the minimum mass, the radius may be calculated using various models. For example, if Gliese 581 c is a rocky planet with a large iron core, it should have a radius approximately 50% larger than that of Earth, according to Udry's team.cite news | title = Astronomers Find First Earth-like Planet in Habitable Zone | publisher = ESO | url = | accessdate = 2007-05-10] Gravity on such a planet's surface would be approximately 2.24 times as strong as on Earth. However, if Gliese 581 c is an icy and/or watery planet, its radius would be less than 2 times that of Earth, even with a very large outer hydrosphere, according to density models compiled by Diana Valencia and her team for Gliese 876 d. [cite journal |author=Valencia et al. |title=Radius and Structure Models of the First Super-Earth Planet | year=2006 |journal=The Astrophysical Journal|volume=656|issue=1|pages=545–551|doi=10.1086/509800] Gravity on the surface of such an icy and/or watery planet would be at least 1.25 times as strong as on Earth.They claim the real value of the radius may be anything between the two extremes calculated by density models outlined above. [cite journal | url= |author=Valencia and Sasselov |title=Detailed Models of Super-Earths: How Well Can We Infer Bulk Properties? |journal = The Astrophysical Journal | volume=665 | issue=2 | year=2007 | pages=1413–1420 | doi=10.1086/519554] Other scientists' views differ. Sara Seager at MIT has speculated that Gliese 581 c and other five-Earth-mass planets could be: [cite journal | url= |author=Seager|title=Alien Earths from A to Z |journal = Sky & Telescope | volume=ISSN 0037-6604 | issue=January | year=2008 | pages=22-25 | doi=]

* "rock giants" mostly of silicate.
* "cannonball" planets of solid iron.
* "gas dwarfs" mostly of helium and hydrogen.
* carbon-rich "diamond worlds"
* purely hot ice-VII worlds.
* purely carbon-monoxide worlds.

If the planet transits the star as seen from our direction, the radius should be measurable, although with some uncertainty. Unfortunately, measurements made with the Canadian-built MOST space telescope indicate that transits do not occur.


Gliese 581 c has an orbital period ("year") of 13 Earth days and its orbital radius is only about 7% that of the Earth, about 11 million km [cite news | last = Overbye | first = Dennis | title = 20 light years away, the most Earthlike planet yet | publisher = International Herald Tribune | date = 2007-04-25 | url = | accessdate = 2007-05-10] , while the Earth is 150 million kilometres from the Sun [cite web | title = The Earth Worldbook | publisher = NASA | url = | accessdate = 2007-05-10] . Since the host star is smaller and colder than the Sun—and thus less luminous—this distance places the planet on the "warm" edge of the habitable zone around the star according to Udry's team. Note that in astrophysics, the "habitable zone" is defined as the range of distances from the star at which a planet could support liquid water on its surface: it should not be taken to mean that the planet's environment would be suitable for humans, a situation which requires a more restrictive range of parameters. A typical radius for an M0 star of Gliese 581's age and metallicity is 0.00128 AU [cite journal| title=Evolutionary tracks and isochrones for low- and intermediate-mass stars: From 0.15 to 7 M, and from Z=0.0004 to 0.03 |author=Girardi L., Bressan A., Bertelli G., Chiosi C.|journal=Astron. Astrophys. Suppl. Ser.|volume=141|pages=371|year=2000| doi=10.1051/aas:2000126] , against the sun's 0.00465 AU. This proximity means that the primary star should appear 3.75 times wider and 14 times larger in area for an observer on the planet's surface looking at the sky than the Sun appears to be from Earth's surface.

Tidal lock

Because of its small separation from Gliese 581, the planet has been generally considered to always have one hemisphere facing the star (only day), and the other always facing away (only night), or in other words being tidally locked. [cite news | first = Dan | Last = Vergano | title = Out of our world: Earthlike planet | publisher = USA Today | date = 2007-04-25 | url = | accessdate = 2007-05-10] [Selsis 2.4.1 "becomes tidally locked in less than 1 Gyr."] Even then, the planet would undergo violent tidal flexing, because the orbital eccentricity is between 0.10 and 0.22. Because tidal forces are stronger when the planet is close to the star, eccentric planets are expected have a rotation period which is shorter than its orbital period, also called pseudo-synchronization. [cite journal|author = Hut, P.|title=Tidal Evolution in Close Binary Systems|journal=Astronomy and Astrophysics|volume=99|issue=1|year=1981|pages=126–140|url=] An example of this effect is seen in Mercury, which is tidally locked in a 3:2 resonance, completing three rotations every two orbits. In any case, even in case of 1:1 tidal lock, the planet would undergo libration and the terminator would be alternatively lit and darkened during libration. [cite news |first=David |last=Perlman |title=New planet found: It might hold life |url= |work=San Francisco Chronicle |date=2007-04-24 |accessdate = 2007-04-24 ]

Models of the evolution of the planet's orbit over time suggest that heating resulting from this tidal locking may play a major role in the planet's geology. Models proposed by scientists predict that tidal heating could yield a surface heat flux about three times greater than the Jupiter's moon Io's, which could result in major geological activity such as volcanoes and plate tectonics. [cite journal|title=Tidal Heating of Extra-Solar Planets| first= Brian| last= Jackson| coauthors= Richard Greenberg, Rory Barnes| journal=ApJ| year=2008|doi=10.1086/587641|volume=681|pages=1631 | id=arXiv|0803.0026 ]

Habitability and Climate

The study of Gliese 581 c by the von Bloh et al team has be quoted as concluding "The super-Earth Gl 581c is clearly outside the habitable zone, since it is too close to the star." And temperature speculations by other scientists are based on the temperature of (and heat from) the parent star Gliese 581 and have been calculated without factoring in the wide margin of error (96°C/K) for the star's temperature of 3432°K to 3528 °K.cite journal | author=Bean, J. L.; Benedict, G. F.; Endl, M. | title=Metallicities of M Dwarf Planet Hosts from Spectral Synthesis | journal=The Astrophysical Journal | year=2006 | volume=653 | issue=1 | pages=L65–L68 | url= | accessdate=2007-02-04 | doi=10.1086/510527 ]

Effective Temperatures

Using the measured stellar luminosity of Gliese 581 of 0.013 times that of our Sun, it is possible to calculate Gliese 581 c's effective surface temperature. According to Udry's team, the effective temperature for Gliese 581 c, assuming an albedo (reflectivity) such as Venus' (0.64), would be convert|-3|°C|°F|lk=on, and assuming an Earth-like albedo (0.296), then it would be convert|40|°C|°F|lk=on, a range of temperatures which overlaps with the range that water would be liquid at a pressure of 1 atmosphere. However, the effective temperature and actual surface temperature can be very different thanks to the greenhouse properties of the planetary atmosphere: for example, Venus has an effective temperature of convert|34.25|°C|°F|lk=on, but a surface temperature of convert|463.85|°C|°F|lk=on, a difference of about convert|430|C-change|F-change|lk=on. [cite web|url=|title=Venus Fact Sheet|publisher=NASA|accessdate=2008-09-20] Studies of the (extremophile life forms) habitabilityclarifyme|date=October 2008 of Gliese 581's planets [Selsis 5. "Gl 581c is very unlikely to be (extremophile life forms) habitable" ] conclude that Gliese 581 c is likely to suffer from a runaway greenhouse effect similar to that found on Venus, as such, is highly unlikely to be habitable. Nevertheless, this runaway greenhouse effect could be prevented by the presence of sufficient cloud cover on the planet's day side. [Selsis 3.1 "would be habitable only if clouds with the highest reflectivity covered most of the daytime hemisphere."] Though again, this type of atmosphere would not be breathable via supercritical water "atmosphere" or hot CO2 rich atmosphere, or other possible waterless scenarios.. [Selsis 3.1 "this type of atmosphere would not be breathable."] Alternatively, if the surface were covered in ice, it would have a high albedo (reflectivity), and thus could reflect enough of the incident sunlight back into space to render the planet too cold for (extremophile life forms) habitability, although this situation is expected to be unstable except for very high albedos greater than about 0.95: release of carbon dioxide by volcanic activity or of water vapor due to heating at the substellar point would trigger a runaway greenhouse effect. [Selsis 3.1.2]

Liquid water

Gliese 581 c is likely to lie outside the (extremophile life forms) habitable zone. [Selsis Abstract, 3. Figure 4.] No direct evidence has been found for water (an important abundant molecule) to be present, but it is probably not present in the liquid state. Techniques like the one used to measure the extrasolar planet HD 209458 b may in the future be used to determine the presence of water in the form of vapor in the planet's atmosphere, but only in the rare case of a planet with an orbit aligned so as to transit its star, which Gliese 581 c is not known to do.

Tidally-locked models

Theoretical models predict that volatile compounds such as water and carbon dioxide, if present, might evaporate in the scorching heat of the sunward side, migrate to the cooler night side, and condense to form ice caps. Over time, the entire atmosphere might freeze into ice caps on the night side of the planet. Alternatively, an atmosphere large enough to be stable would circulate the heat more evenly, allowing for a wider habitable area on the surface. [cite web |url= | title=Red Star Rising | last=Alpert | first=Mark | date=2005-11-07 | publisher=Scientific American | accessdate = 2007-04-25] For example, although Venus has a small axial inclination, very little sunlight reaches the surface at the poles. A slow rotation rate approximately 117 times slower than Earth's produces prolonged days and nights. Despite the uneven distribution of sunlight cast on Venus at any given time, polar areas and the night side of Venus are kept almost as hot as day by globally circulating winds. [cite web|title = Titan, Mars and Earth: Entropy Production by Latitudinal Heat Transport|author=Ralph D Lorenz, Jonathan I Lunine, Paul G Withers, Christopher P. McKay|work=Ames Research Center, University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory|url=|year=2001|accessdate=2007-08-21] However, it remains unknown if water and/or carbon dioxide are even present on the surface of Gliese 581c.

Future observations

Gliese 581 c presents several challenges for study. It has not been directly observed, and the development of equipment sensitive enough to look for signs of (extremophile forms of) life will take years.cite news|url=|title=Earth-like planet found that may support life|publisher=CTV News|accessdate = 2007-04-25] However, according to the research-team member Xavier Delfosse::

"Because of its temperature and relative proximity, this planet will most probably be a very important target of the future space missions dedicated to the search for extremophile forms of extraterrestrial life. On the treasure map of the universe, one would be tempted to mark this planet with an X."

Astronomers Stéphane Udry, Dimitar Sasselov and Glenn White suggested that the earthlike properties of Gliese 581 c made it a likley target for future observation missions such as ESA's Darwin Mission and NASA's Terrestrial Planet Finder. [cite news|url= |title=New Planet Could Be Earthlike, Scientists Say |publisher="New York Times" |author=Dennis Overbye |date=April 25, 2007 |accessdate=2008-09-15]

See also

* Gliese 581 d
* Planetary habitability
* Habitable zone
* Goldilocks phenomenon
* Interstellar travel


Further reading

News media reports

* cite web|url=
title='Goldilocks' planet may be just right for life
author=Hazel Muir
date=April 25 2007

* cite web|url=
title=Astronomers find first habitable Earth-like planet
date=April 24 2007

* cite web|url=
title=Found 20 light years away:the new Earth
publisher=Daily Mail
date=April 26 2007

*cite web|url=
title='Second Earth' may mean we're not alone
author=Ian Sample
publisher=The Hindu
date=April 24 2007

*cite web|url=
title=All Wet? Astronomers Claim Discovery of Earth-like Planet
author=J.R. Minkle
publisher=Scientific American
date=April 24 2007

*cite web|url=
title=Distant planet judged possibly habitable
publisher=World Science
date=April 23 2007

*cite web|url=
title=First habitable Earth like planet outside Solar System discovered
date=April 23 2007

Non-news media


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