Well Sci-fi fans, it appears our prayers have been answered!
On September 29, 2010 scientists announced that they had found an “Earth-like” planet named Gliese 581g. Gliese 581g is an extrasolar planet that is located in the Gliese 581 Planetary system in the constellation Libra. Gliese 581g is the fourth planet from its sun. It orbits a red dwarf sun named Gliese 581. It is 14 times closer to its sun, but because Gliese 581 is a red dwarf and only puts out about 1% of what our own sun does it is in the Goldilocks zone. It orbits Gliese 581 in about 37 days. It has a mass of 3.1 to 4.3 times that of Earth categorizing it as a “Super-Earth”.
Gliese 581g was found by a group of Swiss, French, and Portuguese astronomers at the E.S.O. observatory in Chile. Astronomers use the radial velocity method to find exoplanets outside our own solar system. This method measures the wobble of a sun. When planets orbit a sun they cause the sun to wobble because of their gravitational pull. Proving the existence of Gliese 581g was painfully long. It took 238 measurements over 11 years. I can imagine how excited these astronomers were during their observations. They have been studying this planetary system for some time now, and they have been let down twice with two other planets that were found outside the Goldilocks zone.
What is the Goldilocks zone? The Goldilocks zone is the zone that a planet can be in relationship to its star where the temperatures are not too cold or not too hot to support life. Gliese 581g appears to be tidally locked in orbit around its sun. This means that it does not rotate on its axis. One side is always facing the sun and the other side is always facing away from the sun.
I can’t help but wonder what Gliese 581g looks like. Scientists are fairly certain that it is a rocky planet. They know that a planet with ten times the mass of Earth is gas giants. With the small mass of Gliese 581g it is more than likely a rocky planet. They also believe that it has liquid water on its surface. It lies within the Goldilocks zone and because of this water will not evaporate or freeze.
With this knowledge, I can compare it to other alien planets all of us sci-fi fans are familiar with. The most recent and famous one is Pandora from the movie Avatar. Pandora is not a planet, but it is a rocky moon that orbits a gas giant Polyphemus. We have several icy moons that orbit gas giants in our own solar system. Ganymede and Europa are Galilean moons of Jupiter that are made of ice and rock. We can’t forget Enceladus. It is a moon of Saturn. Enceladus is the smallest geologically active body in our solar system. The planet Kobol is from Battlestar Galactica (BSG 1978 and BSG 2003). Kobol is the birthplace of humanity in the television series. A spin-off of Battlestar Galactica is Caprica which is also the name of their planet. Centauri Prime is a planet in Babylon 5 that is the home world of the Babylon 5. Who could forget Tatooine? This was my first vision of an alien world. It is the home to Anakin and Luke Skywalker of Star Wars. It was a desert planet. No list of alien planets is complete without Vulcan of Star Trek. Planet Vulcan is the birthplace of Spock. It was however a real hypothesized planet between the sun and Mercury in the 1800s.
I then have to ask how we are going to get there. Gliese 581g is approximately 20 light years from Earth. A light year is the distance light can travel in a year in a vacuum. A light year is equivalent to 6 trillion miles. 6 trillion miles times 20! That’s 120 trillion miles! With our current technology it could take a couple hundred thousand years to reach Gliese 581g. That would take too long. If we could travel a tenth of the speed of light, that would take 200 years. That is a little more reasonable, but would still take a large ship and multiple generations of people.
What sci-fi ship could get us there in a reasonable amount of time? I searched the internet high and low and found a few notable sci-fi spaceships that could make the trip. My favorite is the Jupiter 2 (shown below) from Lost in Space. This was my very first introduction to spaceships and life in outer space. Who doesn’t love the Robinson’s? This was a classy ride and to me the only way to travel.
My second favorite intergalactic spaceship is from my most favorite science fiction television weekly episodic series currently on SyFy in the United States and Space Channel in Canada. That ship is the Destiny of Stargate Universe from the MGM Studios Stargate Franchise produced in Vancouver British Columbia by Bridge Studios.
The only way I want to travel in this craft is if Eli is at the helm!
Next is the Galactica of the two Battlestar Galactica series produced by NBC Universal. Both were fight worthy spaceships capable of handling any hostile aliens we might come across.
Last but not least is the most popular U.S.S. Enterprise of Star Trek. Captain James T. Kirk could surely get us to our destination safely. What do all of these ships have in common that would allow us to get to our destination in a reasonably short time? They all have warp drive. Yes, we will need warp drive to get us there.
The question on everyone’s mind? Is there life on Gliese 581g? If there is water on Gliese 581g, then there is surely life. That is an overwhelmingly supported opinion of many astrobiologists. Water is the universal solvent. For life to happen on any planet it needs a liquid medium. Water is the most notable because it is how life on Earth came to be. Astrobiologist Steven Vogt says “My own personal feeling is that the chances of life on this planet are 100 percent.”
Scientists estimate the surface temperature of Gliese 581g to be between 10 and -24 degrees Fahrenheit or -12 to -31 degrees Celsius. Gliese 581g is tidally locked in orbit and does not spin on its axis. This makes it very hot on one side and very cold on the other. There is a zone where the light meets the dark side of the planet that should be suitable for life.
What would aliens on Gliese 581g look like? It is a planet similar to Earth and its gravity is almost the same as Earth’s gravity. Just a few variants along their evolution could have produced similar or drastically different results. I can’t help but think about our famous sci-fi aliens. My favorite alien of all time is Jar Jar Binks of Star Wars fame. Jar Jar Binks would be a friendly alien to meet, but what if Gliese 581g was inhabited by the alien from the Alien series? Hideous creatures with blood like acid! Sigourney Weaver will have to come along with us as we travel to Gliese 581g to save us from the aliens.
What if the aliens looked like Ronon Dex from Stargate Atlantis as portrayed by Jason Mamoa? Strong and handsome survivalists! I am booking the first flight to Gliese 581g. It’s also possible that they could be a race of androids such as Lt. Commander Data from Star Trek. If their civilization is advanced enough, they could have developed android technology that outlived the species that created them.
The most famous alien race would be The Navi from Avatar. Last but not least, what if they were similar to the aliens on War of the Worlds? We can only use our imagination when trying to envision what kind of life is on Gliese 581g.
The discovery this week is one of the biggest of our lifetime! It is the first time we can truly say that we may not be alone in the universe. I have combined science fiction along with the science that we know in this story because we are on the edge of what we know and diving off into the unknown. Thanks for reading this story and feel free to leave any comments or suggestions.