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Hi "new planet" Gliese 581G! Welcome to the neighborhood!

bylynettecook.jpg

Astronomers have discovered a habitable planet only 20 lightyears away, orbiting a red dwarf! That's only slightly longer than the Kessel Run. It's named Gliese 581G -- pronounced Glee-zuh, as in Glee, the popular TV show about high school glee clubs that I now realize is only the second-biggest thing to happen to earth since the Big Bang.

Gliese, the photo is artist Lynette Cook's rendering of how you might look, but I think it makes you look too gassy.

Now that it might not be alone in the universe, Earth can't wander around the house in its boxers eating wings the way it used to. Earth needs to get dressed and start cleaning up the place in case others might want to come over. We should probably quit smoking, while we're at it.

Fortunately, it only took us 11 years to find a habitable, Earth-compatible planet in our interstellar neighborhood. That's good -- one more year, Earth would have thrown in the towel, gotten an eHarmony profile and had to ward off emails from gas giants who only looked habitable in their pictures.

The problem with 20 lightyears is that it's, well, a pretty large number of years. If Jupiter were inches away, this would be miles away. This means that we can't just trash this place and then drive over, or immediately ship all the polar bears there, after apologizing for not buying the new Nissan leaf.

Gliese 581G has some quirky and endearing traits. For instance, its rotation pattern. It's always sunny on the one side of Gliese 581G that is facing the red dwarf! On the bright side, it's day all year long! On the dark side, this makes half the planet very hospitable to vampires.

They'd better send an entry to Miss Universe, though. Can't wait to see how that unicellular lifeform looks in a swimsuit! On the plus side, it probably knows more about geography than Miss Teen South Carolina.

I wonder if they have books or TV there. I imagine "Snow White and the Seven Red Dwarfs" or "First Rock from the Red Dwarf" or just "Red Dwarf" would be big hits.

So, is there intelligent life? Well, once we figure that out about this planet, we'll be in touch.

I wonder how it feels about finding us. "Well," Gliese 581G probably thinks to itself, "there goes the neighborhood."

And of course, it's on twitter now.

By Alexandra Petri  | September 30, 2010; 10:23 AM ET
Categories:  Petri  | Tags:  space  
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