John Melikoff,Zendex LifeSciences Research and GLIESE 581
SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
John Melikoff and I go back a long way! We both played in Montreal open tournaments starting in the early 1970’s and became friends. In 1976 I remember we both played in the World Open in New York and shared a room in a hotel whose name I don’t recall. Later John became a successful broker. Over the years we lost contact.
Recently, John and I have reconnected. He has been kind enough to allow me to reproduce the article below from the January 1st, 2011 edition of Zendex LifeSciences Research on GLIESE 581. Although this has been in the news a lot since September when it was first discovered that one of the 6 planets orbitting the red dwarf might be inhabitable for us humans, I hadn’t really paid much attention until John sent me this to read.
Enjoy! (and thankyou, John!)
Zendex LifeSciences Research
January 1st, 2011 Vol. 20, No. 10
As we noted in the past sometimes being followers of the life science industry leads us to information that we would not otherwise notice. We thought we should finish 2010 off and start 2011 by noting that human science progress definitely did not come to a halt due to a brief recession. Now we have a legitimate reason to contemplate what life forms would be like on an alien planet. Would there be viruses, bacteria and DNA in complex cells? Probably, but they would also probably be very different.
This quarter the information that caught our attention is not of any immediate life science significance but longer term it may alter humanities intellectual pursuits because it is clearly a revolutionary change for human thought. Humanity may no longer be the center of the universe as we have always thought. On September 29th “an Earth-size planet has been spotted orbiting a nearby star at a distance that would make it not too hot and not too cold — comfortable enough for life to exist”, astronomers sponsored by the National Science Foundation and NASA announced.
Was there any interest in this announcement that a potential earth equivalent, called planet G, has been found? Not much.
Gliese 581 a small red star with 6 planets
We checked the Wall Street Journal and no there was no reference to Gliese 581. We checked the Globe and Mail which pays a little more attention to science news that is not necessarily financial. They had some news from 2007 when a planet system had been discovered around Gliese 581 but that was all. Nothing about the newly discovered planet G. Why was there absolutly no interest from the largest newspapers? Probably because they don’t believe it. Approximately 500 planets have now been discovered since the first one in 1995, but they are mainly super sized planets like Jupiter that are essentially gaseous giants that are practically stars. Nothing could live on Jupiter.
What did the discovers have to say? Scientists are well known to make breakthrough announcements when their funding is about to dry up. But this is what they said:
“Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say, my own personal feeling is that the chances of life on this planet are 100 percent,” said Steven Vogt, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, during a press briefing. “I have almost no doubt about it.”
“It’s both an incremental and monumental discovery,” Sara Seager, an astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It really is monumental if you accept this as the first Earth-like planet ever found in the star’s habitable zone,” said Seager.
MIT did comment on the discovery and actually argued that planets that close to a sun could indeed have sufficient magnetic fields to prevent a destabilized condition which would therefore permit life. Paradoxically there is a current concern that earth’s magnetic field is evidently moving around too fast. It used to be centered on Northern Baffin Island but evidently is moving at 50 kilometers a year towards Russia! A Red Dwarf would be much less active than our sun and so the possibility exists that planet G’s weather is highly stable. In other words the life that might exist on G could be thousands of times older than on our planet earth.
But it then noted that nobody had since seen the planet. Considering it would only be detectable every time it caused an eclipse of the dwarf star light, it means no one could detect it for at least 37 more days. The discoverers had watched it for 11 years.
This is why planets around dwarf stars can be more easily detected. Since the dwarf star is so small and does not generate huge amounts of light it can briefly be partially eclipsed as the planet passes between the star location and the earth. This is what the astronomers think they have found:
GLIESE 581 Planet G
Diameter – 1.2 to 1.4 times that of the Earth
Mass – between 3.1 and 4.3 times that of the Earth
Average surface temperature – between -24F and 10F (-31C and -12C). Like the moon and the earth only one side faces its sun. ( In other words if humans occupied the planet they would live on a band were the red star was always in the same place and low on the horizon to avoid the overheated areas directly in the sun. This band would circle the globe as unlike on earth the North and South poles and the equator would have an identical temperature.)
Distance from the Earth – 20 light years or 118,000,000,000,000 miles
Time needed to travel to Gliese 581g in a rocket travelling one tenth the speed of light, or 19,000 miles per second – 200 years
One of six planets to orbit the star Gliese 581
Length of year – 37 Earth days
Gravity – similar or slightly higher than Earth
Distance from its sun – around six million miles
The planet orbits a red dwarf which is 50 times cooler and a third the size of our Sun
Composition – rocky with liquid water and atmosphere
We would note that nearer to the speed of light the trip would take the space travelers a matter of weeks according to Einstein’s theory. For those on earth the space travellers would take over 20 years to get there but the travellers themselves would consider that only days had passed as their time would virtually stop progressing as they neared the speed of light. As long as they had a computer that knew were they where and would slow the ship down so that they were again functioning normally, the space travellers would be virtually no older than when they left.
This is all fantastical for now but in the 20th century so was the possibility that other earthlike world’s existed. This star and the planetary system occurs within the space of Venus’s orbit and mostly within Mercury’s orbit. A Jupiter sized planet would effectively eclipse Gliese from earth for hours so there is no super-sized planet orbiting Gliese. The orbits of planets in the Gliese 581 system are compared to those of our own solar system in the adjacent drawing. The Gliese 581 star has about 30 percent the mass of our sun, and the outermost planet is closer to its star than we are to the sun. The 4th planet, G, is a planet that could sustain life
Planet G is shown orbiting Gliese 581. This drawing compares the space size to our system.
Unlike our sun, Gliese 581 is expected to last many billions of years before it destabilizes. We would just need to figure out how to travel near the speed of light to get there before our sun explodes, which is expected millions of years from now and not billions. But for now this discovery does suggest that governments should not cut spending on astrophysic’s research and space engine development. Where is Dr. Spock when we need him!?