Fun with Math
Scientists have discovered a new planet in the constellation Libra. The small, rocky planet is special because it appears to have mild temperatures, like Earth. Researchers believe it looks like the first planet outside of our solar system that could be home to liquid water, and maybe even life.
His team has found three planets around this star, and one of them is particularly interesting. They think the planet is a little bigger than Earth, with about five times the Earth's mass. It orbits very close to its star, going all the way around in just 13 days. The planet isn't super hot though, because Gliese 581 is a red dwarf, which is much dimmer and cooler than our sun.
Scientists calculate that average temperatures on the surface of the planet should be around 32 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Mayor says that is a friendly environment for liquid water and maybe even life.
If confirmed by other astronomers, this is very exciting news. As the article mentions, our ability to identify extrasolar planets is very limited- mostly because they are very far away and, by comparison to their parent stars, very dim. So, the discovery of this relatively Earth-like world heralds a new era in our exploration of the universe. Perhaps over the next several years we may start to develop the tools to really determine how common worlds like our Earth are.
Of course this news may cause problems for the religious right, who hate and fear the possibility that we may not be the metaphysical center of the universe. Particularly the crazies over on Conservapedia will likely be displeased by this, given their fascinating article on Exotheology. I've previously mentioned their article on extraterrestrial life and how its use of the hydroplate theory* to explain potential life on Mars is a little... unreasonable. Even if this innovative theory were to hold, however, the discovery of life on a world circling another star would make things even worse for our crusading creationists. So, out of the goodness of my heart, let me see if I can help them out.
On Conservapedia, they claim that if the hydroplate theory is correct, Mars could have been contaminated by terrestrial microbes embedded in a "muddy slurry" originating on the Earth. Ho-kay. Well, maybe the same logic would work for the world circling Gliese 581, which is 20.40 lightyears away from Earth. Now, if microbes were expelled from the Earth in this "muddy slurry" then it is possible that they could have been expelled through space all the way to Gliese 581, right? Well sure! Fairly reliable calculations suggest that the water ejected by the hydroplate theory would be travelling at about 469 kilometers per second.** By contrast, the speed of light is 299,792.458 kilometers per second. So, the water is being expelled at approximately 0.0016 C or 0.16% the speed of light. Given that, in one year light will travel 9,460,730,472,580.80 kilometers (a lightyear) while the water will travel 14,800,514,400 kilometers. This means that for the water to travel one lightyear it would need 639.22 years. Since Gliese 581 is 20.40 lightyears away, the total required travel time is 13,040.09 years. That's not so bad in astronomical terms so I suppose it's possible that any life around Gliese 581 could have originated on Earth.
Unless, of course, you believe in the hydroplate theory and, therefore, in an Earth that's less than 10,000 years old.
* Keeping in mind that, in this context, I'm using "theory" interchangeably with "lunatic rantings."
** These velocity calculations come from an individual who is trying to debunk the hydroplate theory but, really, figures from hydroplate supporters would indicate a lower velocity. In this case, a lower velocity isn't helpful, as you will soon see.