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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
Tags:  Alexandra Petri  
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Comments

Unfortunately, a red dwarf normally doesn't produce enough high-energy light to sustain the same type of photosynthesis-based plant life that we have here on Earth, unless the planet were so close to the star that temperatures would be unbearable for human life. However, I don't know just how "red" this particular "red dwarf" is. If it's actually closer to orange or yellow, the situation could be better.

Posted by: Gradivus | September 30, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

This discovery leaves us with at least two imperatives.

First, we need a better name for the planet--the WaPo could run a contest.

Second, we should prepare an unmanned probe, even if it will take a thousand years to prepare one that will take a thousand years to get there.

Posted by: scientist1 | September 30, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

I heard the weather and the welcome is better on LV 426.

Posted by: Garak | September 30, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

When we someday colonize Gliese 581G, we should found a city on the perpetual-day side and name it after Philadelphia, so that the show "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" will appear eerily prescient.

Posted by: EWS06 | September 30, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse

There is life on Gliese planets--just read "Renegade Paladins" by YS Pascal. 99 cents on Kindle and ebooks.

Posted by: lreid3 | September 30, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse

@Gradivus - True, while red dwarfs don't typically produce the same type of energy as our own sun, Gliese 581 g *does* orbit within its' parent star's "hospitable zone", or as scientists like to call it, the "Goldilocks" zone (not too hot, not too cold, but just right) for the possibility of liquid water to exist.

The one catch about Gliese 581 g? It's tidally locked, so one side will always be daylight and the other in perpetual darkness. With no axial tilt, there's no sense of "seasons" like we experience on our own planet. Ergo, the daylight side probably sees scorching temperatures while the night side is downright freezing. The terminus line where day and night meet would probably have the best shot of being close to Earth-like temperatures.

If you can make sense of the technical jargon, feel free to read this article: http://arxiv.org/abs/1009.5733

Posted by: therantinggeek | September 30, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Scientist, we need to start building an interstellar probe right away.

I think the current Pluto mission sets a pretty good example.

Posted by: ZZim | September 30, 2010 5:54 PM | Report abuse

well, well, a columnist who understands the superior humour of Red Dwarf. (Mr Lister, I am afraid I have dissolved the drive computer! No worries Kryten!)
But still, whjat advice would you give to the sentient beings of this planet? Adopt Democracy and make the legal species an independent life form?

Posted by: davsthoughts | September 30, 2010 6:08 PM | Report abuse

well, well, a columnist who understands the superior humour of Red Dwarf. (Mr Lister, I am afraid I have dissolved the drive computer! No worries Kryten!)
But still, whjat advice would you give to the sentient beings of this planet? Adopt Democracy and make the legal species an independent life form?

Posted by: davsthoughts | September 30, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Petri -

It has been more than 24 hours since I notified you in comments of your recent O'Keefe/CNN Sex Boat story of your blatantly inaccurate "reporting" on the O'Keefe/ACORN matter.

As well, you have been notified directly via email and multiple times via Twitter, yet you have failed to issue a correction.

Am I too assume you are simply going to leave your blatantly inaccurate reporting as is? Is this what you and Mr. Milbank consider to be responsible, professional journalism at an important MSM outlet?

Brad Friedman, The BRAD BLOG
http://www.bradblog.com/?p=8101

Posted by: BradFriedman | October 1, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

What if this new discovery has had life as we know it, for say about 300,000 Earth years. Say that a human mammal's life span there is about 4,000 years long on average. Their forms of inter-communication are not rushed, measured in seconds or even minutes but in days.
Now picture SETI's listening station. New Mexico's. What if another planet's inhabitants have been sending a morse like signal out over the airwaves for the last 900 years in Earth time. The letter S. as in SOS takes them 300 years to complete it's transmission run. The static that Earth's listening devices have been picking up has only been around for less than 100 years.
On the other hand, what if 500,000 planets peeps have been sending out a series of messages, at a rapid pace, for thousands of years. Imagine the static that would be picked up by SETI like devices. Kind of like trying to watch and listen to dozens of TV broadcasts here, simultaneously. Can we make any sense out of these millions of messages... without numerous U. N. like translators present? Not likely.
We need more Keplars, fewer SETI's in my opinion.
When an Earth based tympani and percussion specialist, drummer, hits a perfect 5 minute long drum roll, what do we hear? One long five minute sound.... that required 5,000 separate drum beats to produce. (staic at SETI?)
Anyhoo, more Keplars seem in order. They too carry "listening" devices, kind of like Sonar does.... sound AND picture.
Every time I watch ... and listen to the Movie "Contact", I get like this. Brilliant film.

Posted by: deepthroat21 | October 2, 2010 10:46 PM | Report abuse

(static at SETI?) I meant.

Posted by: deepthroat21 | October 2, 2010 10:53 PM | Report abuse

This is by far the most annoying article that I have ever read. Please consider taking a communications class or a creative writing class. Your attempt to use humor has failed miserably. I want to vomit. I can't believe you're writing for The Washington Post.

Posted by: StoptheMadness10 | October 3, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Brad,

It appears Ms Petri is temporarily off the planet...

Posted by: RichNomore | October 4, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

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