It is wonderfully exciting to live at the edge of heaven. Here in Hawaii, at the Keck observatory atop Mauna Kea, it is big news that Gliese 581g, the first Goldilocks, (just right) planet for possibly supporting life as we know it, has been discovered.
Life beyond earth may be called the ultimate quest of humanity, but although conditions favoring life are likely, it is not yet known if such life is already there, (possibly studying us?) but it does bring us one step closer to the inevitable discovery that we are not alone. In the constellation of Libra, the planet is one of at least four found orbiting the star Gliese 581, a red dwarf. The planet is three to four times the mass of Earth. But the Gliese 581 star is smaller than our earth’s star, and is 8 billion years old, compared with 4.5 billion years old age middle age of our own star, Sol.
According to the Honolulu Star: “Because the Gliese 581 star generates far less radiation than Earth’s sun, planet Gliese 581g would have to be much closer to its star to replicate Earth-like conditions. While Earth spins on its axis 93 million miles from the sun, Gliese 581g sits only 14 million miles from its sun. Like Mercury, Gliese 581g likely keeps the same side toward its star, with half of the planet in perpetual darkness and the other in sunlight.Gliese 581g takes less than 37 days to make a complete orbit around its sun, Nader Haghighipour said, compared with 365 days for Earth.”
In other words, it is day all day, and all year always, on one side of Gliese 581g, and it is night all night, always, for those beings who may live there. This leads some to speculate, that if the Goldilocks “ planet does host bears, they might range between Koala and Polar bears. More for Stephen Colbert to rant about on his Threat Down, and infamous hate speech against Mama grizzlies, Yogi, and Papa Bear O’Riley, and other bears of earth.
The Keck observatory team reports the exoplanet’s star, is approximately 20 light years from earth. Meaning, if we could somehow travel at half the speed of light, we could travel there in forty years time. Of course, there would be the problems of energy source and supplies to get there, but, perhaps in a thousand years, we just might plan a trip to the first Goldilocks planet found, bears or no.
What determines that a planet is habitable? It means that this planet may be not too cold and not too hot, just right because of its ideal distance from its sun. The line between night and day on Gliese 581g is known as the teminator. It is halfway between frozen and fried. It also means that the planet has a good possibility of holding onto an atmosphere. It means that the terrain is likely rocky, and not gas. It means, that although larger than earth by up to four times our size, it has patterns of liquid water amenable to life.
Gliese 581g may not have life upon the surface, but the features found thus far are of the kind that have the capability to support life. The important work has been done by more than just the Keck team at Mauna Kea. Several universities, teams, and astrophysicists are involved in the continuing work, as well as the National Science Foundation. The implications of life on other worlds is greatly increased with this discovery, and the miracle of life elsewhere will perhaps inspire us to truly value our own rare and precious planet. Learning math and science is encouraging through such discovery, to reveal nature’s wonders, and to inspire children of earth with more than just fairy tales to tell.