Habitable, hmm?

Rocket scientists agree that we have about reached the limit of our ability to travel in space using chemical rockets. To achieve anything near the speed of light we will need a new energy source and a new propellant. Nuclear fission is not an option.
Wilson Greatbatch-inventor

Have you heard about the “habitable” planet, Gliese 581g, astronomers have discovered 20 light years from Earth? At first blush, it sounds like we should be lining up at NASA to get our colonization tickets. Because I am fascinated by science and space exploration, news of a habitable planet caught my eye and I did a little research.

First, for those who have a problem with interstellar distances, and that is just about everyone, 20 light years is around 189,085,099,109,760,666 miles. Beings how the fastest manmade craft to date was Helios 2’s 150,000 mile per hour orbit around the sun, if you plan on a visit, probably ought to take a snack. At Helios 2’s speed, will take you 143,900,380 years to get there.

Second, the only way this planet is habitable depends on what your definition of “is” is.

• The astronomers estimate Gliese 581g to have a mass three to four times that of Earth, they figure the gravity is only 1.1 to 1.7 times that of Earth. I am not sure how the scientist reconcile 3 to 4 times the mass with such a small increase in gravity unless the planet is hollow or made of lightweight materials. Even at that, 1% to 7% additional weight would add 13 to 91 pounds to a female weighing 130 pounds on Earth. Because I do not know a single woman who would willing put on 13 to 91 pound, that should eliminate the need for female bathrooms on the ship; however, the scientists say a person would be able to walk around easily. I guess that would depend on what one’s definition of “easily” is.

• You might also want to take a jacket on your trip, because they estimate the “average temperature” is between -24 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit, and in this case, “average” is a little deceptive. The planet has a tidal lock with its sun, just as our moon has a tidal lock with the Earth. We only see one side of the moon, and Gliese 581g always has the same side facing its sun. As one might expect, that creates a substantial differential in temperature between the sides. The temperate -24 to 10 degree region would be a narrow band between the sunlight and the shadow. With year-round temperatures being close to freezing, growing crops may prove to be a problem.

• Gliese 581g is orbiting a red dwarf sun, and it makes an orbit every 37 days. Here, my ignorance is showing. I do not know if a visitor would need sunscreen or a tanning bed, but it is sure to be different from what we have here. I also do not know what impact a new year starting every 37 days would have. I guess a person who lives to be 78 on Earth would live to be 769 on Gliese 581g. That is a good thing, isn’t it? Unless that greater gravity thing cuts a few years off.

I’m thinking neither the habitability of Gliese 581g, nor the technology for 20 light-year travel is ready for prime time yet. Give it another 300 to 500 years, Earth years that is, then . . . .

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Published in: on October 1, 2010 at 2:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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