GLIESE 581c- Where DEATH dares LIFE to EXIST

Gliese 581c

Gliese 581c is a planet orbiting within the Gliese 581 planetary system. It is the second planet discovered in the system and the third in order from the star. With a mass at least 5.5 times that of the Earth, it is classified as a super-Earth.

Visual comparison between Earth and a Super-Earth

Super-Earth: It is an extrasolar planet with a mass higher than Earth’s, but substantially below the masses of the Solar System’s ice giants, Uranus and Neptune, which contain 15 and 17 Earth masses respectively. The term super-Earth refers only to the mass of the planet, and so does not imply anything about the surface conditions or habitability.

Gliese 581c gained interest from astronomers because it was reported to be the first potentially Earth-like planet in the habitable zone of its star, with a temperature right for liquid water on its surface, and by extension, potentially capable of supporting extremophile forms of Earth-like life. However, further research casts doubt upon the planet’s habitability. It is tidally locked so if life had a chance to emerge, the best hope of survival would be the Goldilocks zone.

An extremophile

Extremophile: It is an organism that thrives in physically or geochemically extreme conditions that are detrimental to most life on Earth.

Tidal Locking

Tidally locked: A tidally-locked planet in its orbit around a star keeps the same face towards the star. This happens when the rotation period of the planet around its own axis becomes equal to its revolution period around the star. The rotation and revolution periods, even if initially different, could get synchronized over time due to tides on the planet because of the gravitational effect of the star, hence the term tidal-locking. Of course instead of a planet and star it could be any other gravitationally bound pair of astronomical bodies, like Earth and Moon.

Visualization of Goldilocks Zone

Goldilocks Zone: It refers to the habitable zone around a star where the temperature is just right — not too hot and not too cold — for liquid water to exist on a planet.

In astronomical terms, the Gliese 581 system is relatively close to Earth, at 20.37 light-years (192 trillion km or 119 trillion miles) in the direction of the constellation of Libra.

Scientists have determined that this hell of a planet is the most likely candidate for future colonization, despite the fact the entire planet’s out to get you.

Gliese 581c orbits a Red Dwarf Star

This planet orbits a red dwarf star, many times smaller than our Sun, with a luminosity of only 1.3% of our sun. This means that the planet is far closer to its star than we are to ours. Because of this, it is stuck in a state of tidal locking.

Luminosity: It is the total amount of energy emitted by a star, galaxy, or other astronomical object per unit time.

The tidal locking of the planet alone results in some pretty odd features. Stepping out onto the star-side of the planet would immediately melt your face off, whereas standing on the opposite side of the planet, where there is no sun, would freeze you instantly. However, in between these two extremes is a small belt where life could theoretically exist.

Visualization of Gliese 581c’s sky

Living on Gliese 581c would have its challenges, though, like:

  1. The star it orbits is a Red Dwarf, which means that it is at the lower frequency end of our visible spectrum, bathing the entire sky of Gliese 581c in a hellish red color.
  2. Another side effect of this is the fact that photosynthesizing plants would have to adapt to the constant bombardment of infrared radiation, rendering them a deep black color.

I wonder what life would be like on Gliese 581c if the theoretical existence of life in the face of melting and freezing deaths were true!

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