Exoplanetary Progress Report

Four years ago, I nearly came out of my skin with excitement about “GL 581c“, the second planet from the star (“a”), which is the GL, which stands for Gliese, the name of the astronomer who discovered it. So, the star—or sun—is Gliese. I do not know what the 581 stands for. Matrix number, most likely.

But now they have found an even more likely “earth”—and, to say the very least, this is a huge development. It is called “GL 581g” (I like the “g” part), meaning it is sixth from the sun’s “a” status. While it is in our galaxy, it is not so far that we could not find it.

Furthermore, it is well within range of the earth’s temperature and appears to have possibly all the other features that planets need to support water and, thus—though the greatest mystery—an atmosphere. Estimated at about 20 light years, it is relatively close. A couple of centuries from now and we’ll be opening up “Gliese Seeds and Plants”.

I’m joking.

I made another lame joke about the previous planet last time. Now I feel foolish. This one looks very promising. It is not often that NASA issues a report so encouraging. It is inconceivable. This is not a science fiction movie, but an actual planet very likely to have life on it. The creatures? I actually don’t care much for the thought of new animals or humans. Somehow I have little interest in the possibility of them. If there was ever a case in favor of “social media”, interplanetary communication would be it.

Although I would like to try the seafood.

Needless to say, I cannot wait to see the plants.

This entry was posted on Monday, October 4th, 2010 at 3:14 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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20 Responses to “Exoplanetary Progress Report”

  1. larry depuy said:

    George, what a coincidence . I had just logged on to the ‘Astronomy’ .com. website for that very reason. Gliese 581 g is a planetary mass 3 times that of Earth and if a single body would have one side always facing the ‘sun’ just like our moon has one side always facing the Earth and the gravity would be very uncomfortable . However , if Gliese 581 g is a binary planetary system ,again much like our Earth Moon system , then there might be 2 Earth like planets with only slightly more gravity and since they would revolve around each other they would both have day and night cycles and as a result a moderate stable climate. Assuming both planets evolved plant and animal species Imagine how life would differ under the influence of a dim red ‘sun’ from that of Earth and our bright yellow sun. And how similar or different plants from twin planets might be. All we need is “warp-drive” to get us across the 20 lightyear expanse of space. We humans are very creative . It’s not farfetched to think we’ll get there by the end of this century . Live long and prosper.
    Larry

    • George said:

      Thank you, Larry. The “blind watchmaker” has perhaps come up with creatures who can handle both the gravity and the sunlight. They’d probably vegetate more than our creatures. What a weird sex life. Unless they built an enormous underground complex, which is likely, don’t you think? I like your intriguing red versus yellow sun comment. Maybe you can help refresh my memory. Why does the earth rotate on its axis and planets such as Gliese 581 g and 581 c do not? Thanks again for an interesting and informative post. Please come again.

  2. Richard Wagner said:

    “It is not often that NASA issues a report so encouraging. It is inconceivable.”

    Yes it is inconceivable. Sounds like something NASA comes up with everytime they panic over proposed budget cuts. THey have the suckers hooked and don’t dare give them any slack less they throw the hook.

    Even it it were totally true, even if there really were advanced life forms (plants, animals, etc.) comparable to here on earth the possibility of accessing them in a mere 20 years is fantastic, as in a fantasy.

    • George said:

      I’m sorry I wasn’t clear, Richard. I meant to say that the discovery of Gliese 581 g itself was “inconceivable”, not NASA’s reporting of it. I appreciate your comments. My logic and syntax get screwed up from time to time. As for our accessing life forms being a fantasy, as you suggest, I’m not certain. We have found the planet, after all. And when one considers the last 125 years—from the first automobile travelling a few hundred yards to the Mariner and Voyager space vehicles of the last 10 years reaching mid solar system—it is perhaps not so fantastic to consider a “mechanical” vehicle reaching light speed. Us as humans, no; but an object of some as yet unknown technology, probably. But in our own lifetimes generally, not likely. Let’s hear it once more for the great electrical engineers of the world! Thank you for posting.

  3. I can’t wait to see the plants either !!!

    • George said:

      Thank you for posting, Carolyn. Certainly radiation types of probes will pick up life if it is there. So exciting!

  4. Steve and Audrey Rae Hinderliter said:

    The possibility of Hellebores from Gliece rates a smile, but it’s not even close to your all time best: “Give Peas a Chance”. Your blogs help make our gardening day in Poquoson, Virginia.

    • George said:

      Hellebores from Gliese! I wonder. I’ll have to rehire some of the former Heronswood staff, build an “Enterprise” and send them off. They would be the most experienced. I cannot let Simon Crawford or Grace Romero go at the moment. They are in the middle of new “Earth Plant” projects. Thank you for the compliment on my old blog. I live for such chances to connect with gardeners like you. Please post soon again.

  5. Cathy W said:

    I too share your excitement about our new neighbor. Heck, 20 light years? that’s just around the block!! Can’t wait to see what the future will bring. thanks cw

    • George said:

      As I said, I can’t wait for the seafood, especially with a sort of perpetually lit seashore. What huge clams. . . “Gliese Giga necks”? Depends on the composition of the rock, I suppose, as to saltiness. Wasn’t it Shakespeare who said, “What foods these morsels be?” Thanks very much for posting.

  6. Susan Wallace said:

    By now, you may be aware that Gliese 581g does not rotate; hence half is in perpetual darkness; half in full Gliese-shine. Only the borderline area may be tolerable to earth-like life. Perpetual light may produce some incredible plants, however! Should be interesting to learn more, if ever possible in our lifetimes.
    Best, Sue Wallace

    • George said:

      Thank you for your interesting response. Off the top of my head, I cannot recall why the earth rotates and Gliese’s planets do not. It was explained to me by a recent acquaintance, but I was busy assessing the acquaintance and forgot obviously. As for “perpetual light”, there are many ways to deal with it, depending on its strength and the mental abilities of our possible new neighbors. Tunnels, caves and various filters. I agree that the plants may be quite fascinating indeed. I love your “borderline area” image. Such a world. “We are fearfully and wonderfully made” as it says in the Psalms. Thanks again.

  7. B. Graber said:

    GL581C; this is so incredible.
    Can’t wait to hear more about it. Astrophysicists have been saying for years this would happen. Grateful that this happened in my lifetime.

    • George said:

      Thank you, B. Percival Lowell thought he detected canals on Mars, and he was a Harvard astronomer. There was a minor scandal surrounding it, after several prominent scientists scoffed at him. He was related to the Imagist poet and iconoclast Amy Lowell. So this was just slightly 100 years ago! Since technology compresses time by “aging” scientific discoveries more rapidly, and providing quicker social application, we might get there sooner than we think. Thanks again for posting.

  8. Mitchell said:

    Awesome share! Thank you very much

    • George said:

      You are welcome, Mitchell. Thanks for posting and please do so again.

  9. larry depuy said:

    George, a new type of fontinalis moss has been found 100 feet down near geothermal vents on the floor of Lake Yellowstone in near total darkness amid toxic gasses and heavy metals . Check out sciencedaily.com
    If plants can do it there they can live on other planets . Many smaller more Earth like planets will be discovered in the next few months and years and some will be closer to us than Gliese.I can’t wait!
    I’ll have to get back to you on the reason why the moon faces the Earth with 1 rotation per revolution. Angular momentum/transference of energy and math in general not my thing.
    Thanks for all that you do , Larry

    • George said:

      Thank you, Larry. Amazing insights. I knew mosses were tough, but had no idea they were that tough. I’ll go to your suggested site. So, Gliese was a sort of breakthrough discovery? Was it related to luck or purely a leap in radio telescope technology? As for planetary rotation, was it a result of the impulsion-based gas clouds formed after the “big bang”? In other words, movement was determined by the explosion? And these exoplanets were not so closely hit by excessive gas cloud over zillions of years? Or is it simply that Gliese is so much bigger in relation to its planets that its gravity slows them to a stop? It is odd that some planets rotate and others don’t. Truly exciting and wondrous. Thank you again.

  10. larry depuy said:

    George , Today’s telescopes are much bigger and more precise than just a few years ago and with new techniques have made planet hunting easier . The first exoplanet was discovered about 15 years ago , today the number is 500 and bigger and better telescopes are in the making. Technology has taken an exponential turn, so discoveries are going to come faster and faster . It’s an amazing time to be alive.
    I’m not an expert here but shortly after the moon formed ( when Earth collided with a Mars size body ), the Earth rotated on it’s axis about every 8 hours averaging 4 hours day and 4 hours night . the moon also rotated so all sides of the moon were visible from Earth . The tidal forces (drag) exerted by the Earth on the Moon and vice versa caused the Moon to slow it’s rotation to the point it appears fixed in the sky , one side always facing us . The Earth’s rotation is still slowing and our days are getting longer by fractions of a second every year . Energy is not lost however , so it is added to the Moon’s momentum or velocity , so the moon is gradually moving to a higher orbit , increasing the distance between the Earth and the moon. So the Moon keeps getting further away and our days keep getting longer . The closer 2 bodies are , the stronger the tidal effect . Gliese is a small star and it’s 6 known planets all orbit closer to it than Earth does to the sun. Most orbit much closer than Mercury to the Sun , so it’s believed those planets keep one side facing their star . Red dwarf stars burn more slowly and live much longer, so some are much older than our sun and will continue to burn even after ours is spent.
    I hope this helps . Larry

    • George said:

      Helps a great deal, Larry. I had no idea. Thank you for helping me to understand the subject. What a complex origin to the universe. I know that sounds a bit like a cliché. Someone told me recently that any single human being is more complex than the earth, as an object and system. I found that just as profound. The “infinity of the microcosm”, as in recent genome research. Thanks again.

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