Liquid water is a key ingredient for life as we know it. The new found planet is located at the “Goldilocks” distance—not too close and not too far from its star to keep water on its surface from freezing or vaporizing away. [...]
The new planet is about 50 percent bigger than Earth and about five times more massive. The new “super-Earth” is called Gliese 581 C, after its star, Gliese 581, a diminutive red dwarf star located 20.5 light-years away that is about one-third as massive as the Sun.
This is the first terrestrial world discovered outside of our solar system that orbits within the habitable zone of a star. Although the planet orbits a short distance around its star (about 13 Earth days), life forms could easily survive on this world due to the dimness (or rather lack of heat) from the red dwarf sun.
Scientists are probably going to take a second look at this, and it will be interesting to see whether or not we will be able to locate features upon this world in the future.
The star is Gliese 581, already known to be home to a planet of Neptune mass and a possible third world about eight times as massive as Earth. It’s an M-class red dwarf, far smaller and cooler than the Sun. The new planet, the smallest found up to this point, orbits it in 13 days. Gliese 581, it should be noted, is comparatively close to our own Solar System, about 20.5 light years away in the constellation Libra. Radial velocity methods seem to have been made to order for this small star and the planets that circle it.
Old news but important. Food for my future history project. Text cribbed from: