Earth-like?

Artist's impression of the planetary system ar...

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Ok, perspective time.  Scientists recently announced the discovery of an “Earth-like” Exoplanet orbiting a star about 20 light years from Earth called Gliese 581 in the constellation Libra.  The planet orbits right in the middle of the “goldilocks zone“, not too hot, not too cold.  Also, even though it’s mass is 3 to 4 times that of Earth, the actual gravity on the surface is still a manageable 110 to 170 percent of Earth’s gravity because the planet is about half again as large as Earth.

But don’t pack you bags just yet though.  The planet is also so close to its star that it is likely to be what they call “tidally locked“.  That means that one hemisphere always faces the star and never sees night, while the other hemisphere always faces darkness and never sees daylight.

Wow.  Think about that for a moment.  A planet which may have water in all three states, gas, liquid, and solid, also has a huge portion of its surface always day and another always night.  It makes me wonder what kind of weather that would generate.  I should think that the convection currents would be fun to look at but not fun to experience, since scientists say that the night side could be as cold as -29 °F while the day side could be as warm as 160 °F.

They also say that the most habitable place would be somewhere near what is called the terminator, that line of twilight between the sunny side and the dark side, but wouldn’t that also be where the storms, high surface winds, hurricanes and tornadoes would focus?  This is all just speculation of course.  The advantage of being a science fiction writer is that I can throw ideas like this around but I don’t have to actually prove them. 

I picture a space western about two different civilizations, built on opposite sides of the planet and separated by these hot and cold zones, such that neither know the other exists.  Then one day bold explorers from one side find the other and discover a host of differences and similarities that mix together in lots of fun and fascinating ways. 

Or maybe a love story between a man from the dark glaciers and a woman from the desert under the blazing sun.  They fight the storms at the terminator to be together.

The possibilities are endless.  🙂

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~ by Bill Housley on October 4, 2010.

One Response to “Earth-like?”

  1. This is a perfect example of the doors available for Sci-Fi writers!

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