Evie is an aeorspace engineer and will blog about current events in various fields including but not limited to: Space, Astronomy, Genetics, Biology, Green Energy, Neuroscience, Physics, Quantum Physics, Evolution, Environmental issues, Engineering.. Pretty much anything and everything that catches her eye. Stay tuned! Thoughts, comments, requests – always welcomed!
My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.
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Did you hear the news? It would appear our astronomers have found a planet named Gliese 581g, not too far from us, that according to the data, could possibly sustain life as we know it.
Cool!!! This is very exciting! Of course this does not mean they found life on the planet, or that they even have a way to do so, 'cause they don't at the moment. But it does tell us there are other places in this universe that could potentially be not-too-hostile for life as we know it to exist, and possibly for us to explore/relocate to.
The discovery was made by astronomers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the Carnegie Institution of Washington. The scientists used data from the HIRES spectrometer at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, and the HARPS at the European Southern Observatory in La Silla, Chile to come up with this data.
They looked for evidence of 'wobbles' in the movements of stars to locate new planets. If a star were to move unhindered across the night sky, its path or trajectory would be smooth. But if it were to 'wobble' or make a slight off-trajectory movement, that would indicate the star was being tugged on ever so slightly by some source of gravity, i.e. a planet.
By figuring out how close to the star these planets lie, and how hot the stars themselves are, the astronomers have been able to come up with a 'habitable zone' in which they believe, ideal conditions exist that allow for just the right amount of star radiation to hit the planet in order for liquid water (and hence potential for life as we know it) to exist.
Around this particular star, Gliese 581, so far 6 planets have been found. That is the largest number of planets found orbiting a star, to date. Other than our own Sun that is. Three of these 6 planets seem to lie in the habitable zone. But much like with the Goldilocks story, one is on the far side, the outskirts of the zone and is hence to cold, the other is on the near side and is hence too hot, and only Gliese 581g is right smack in the middle, and hence, should be juuuust right for life.
The planet itself orbits its star in just 36.6 earth days. And much like our Moon, has one side that is always facing its star, and therefore is in perpetual blazing hot day, while the other side is freezing cold and in perpetual night. This makes for stable unchanging climate, and allows the existence of a region along the divide line between night and day, where there will always be a sunrise/sunset situation. Could make for some exotic species!
Of course me being the sci fi buff that I am, it sounds more like a prison. You know, when you can't veer too far from that narrow band in which you can exist else you will perish.. anyone get that feeling too? No? Just me? What about the fact that the star in question is a red dwarf whose life span is supposedly longer than the current age of the universe, or so I'm told? So yea, that'd make the perfect prison, don't you think? Anywhooo...
So what does this actually mean?
Well first of all, it being 'not too far from us' translates to - it's situated roughly 20 light years away. Which means, if one were to travel at the speed of light (2.99x10^8 m/s) continuously in a direct path from here to that planet, it would take that one 20 of our years to arrive.
In the grand scheme of things that really is not very far AT ALL, considering the size of the universe, but it's not exactly a trip to the Moon either. A trip to the Moon (which is NOT far at all) with current technology (nowhere near the speed of light of course) takes about 3 days one way.
Secondly, it being a 'habitable' planet, doesn't exactly mean it's an island paradise.. From the data it would seem the planet is similar to Earth in its dimensions, with a diameter about 1.2-1.4 times that of ours, and a mass about three times as large. This mass/size thing leads our astronomers to believe the planet can hold a substantial atmosphere and hence potentially has life. So in that one band of perpetual sunrise/sunset it could potentially be realistic to think that maybe life would emerge. Oh, and by the way, the climate in that perfect band is said to be between -24 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit (-31 and -12 degrees Celsius). Snowboarding anyone?
No data (at least that I've seen) was revealed as to the atmospheric composition.
Third, the team has been sifting through data and making observations for the past 11 years!! They are extremely dedicated.
According to them, the fact that they found such a planet, one that they deem 'habitable' so soon - yes 11 years to them is soon - means that there are probably a whole lot more out there to be found.
Now personally, I don't believe that finding one 'habitable planet, no matter how fast it was found, is enough to extrapolate and say that there are probably many others. I would need to see a few more found in different locations to be comfortable with such a prediction. This is not say that I don't think there are others, 'cause I do. I'm just saying that this finding in itself, does not represent sufficient supporting data for me to jump for joy just yet.
So, overall I am VERY HAPPY to have read about this discovery. It sure is a promising lead toward a future filled with potential new species on different planets and new locations for humans to explore and possibly move to. This does not however confirm the existence of life elsewhere or even the existence of a planet where we could live. More data is necessary .
This does however come at an interesting point in time. It was just rumored recently that the UN has nominated a Malaysian astrophysicist as the first contact person to approach new species if they were to show up at our door step. The rumor has been denied... for now.. but who knows. Also, some countries in Europe have recently declassified information pertaining to suspected UFO sightings. And let's not forget, the much awaited return of SG:U as season 2 has just begun!
Go Space Exploration!
For more check out the press release here at LabSpaces
And another blog at Wired
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I wonder how large (in km2) is the habitable band. Also I suppose that there must be a tapering off the habitable band, kind of a "you can survive here for a while" band.
Agree with you, one of the most important news this year.
Good question, I didn't see any info on that, I'll update this post if I do.
Awesome. I think we're close to being taken away.
I liked this article on Gliese 581g: http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/g_is_for_goldilocks/
No problem. I think the important "take home message" for people is that the search is on to find planets capable of supporting life. You phrased it correctly in your title when you used the words "potential" and "habitable", and one of the original discoverers botched it when he said he was 100% sure life was there. Truth be told, even if we do determine that the conditions there are suitable for sustaining life (and that will take a lot of time and involve technology we really don't have at our disposal at the current time) we will have no way of knowing that life is actually there (at least that's my opinion). Not without actually going there. I see it this way ... currently we have a n=1 when it comes to planets we know that have the proper conditions to sustain life, and have life on them. If we can find life within our own solar system (Mars, Titan) and raise that n to 3 (which still isn't high) then we can start talking about life actually existing elsewhere. And by no means am I saying that we're all alone in the universe, I'd just like to have the evidence in my own hands before I allow myself to believe anything else.
I agree with you. I too require far more data before believing anything more. The dude who made that rather odd statement though, I think he really believes in his findings and in his work, to him it is 100% for sure that life exists there. It is very weird that he chose to make that unfounded belief of his public in that capacity. Unless... they are keeping something from us. Or, he's just lost it. 11 yrs staring at the same data.. that can make a person lose it a lil bit.. I would think.
Could I use this planet for my essay? I'm entering a contest and I'm not so sure whether if I should pick Mars or Gliese 581g. But I don't know if Gliese581g is considered as one of the planets.
This is the topic for my essay:
With climate change, overpopulation, and dwindling resources we may need to fine a new planet to live on:- describe how you imagine it would be.