Daily Kos Open Science Thread
When the Southern European Observatory reported the discovery of "the most Earth-like planet" yet outside the solar system -- orbiting a red dwarf star named Gliese 581 -- DarkSyde posted about it on Daily Kos three days later, on April 28. Of course, he needed a shot of its surface, and so he asked me to jump in the spaceship equipped with the camera of my imagination.
In this artist’s conception courtesy of our own Karen Wehrstein, the sun would never move as seen from the surface of a tidally-locked world, but the sky is an ever-changing show greater than any on earth. Observational data and theoretical models suggest that stars like Gliese 581 might have a dynamic, granular surface and sport enormous starspots. It could be engulfed in perpetual solar storms, seen here as faint plasma arcs and visible surface flares. The star is shown as it might appear above a hypothetical waterworld’s horizon from just sunward of the terminator, distorted and dimmed through a blanket of CO2 five times thicker than our own atmosphere. With less than 7 million miles separating star and planet, Gliese’s solar wind easily plows through the planet’s (presumed) weak magnetic field and slams into the upper atmosphere to produce brilliant displays. Shimmering cascades of what on earth might be called colorful sprites, blue jets, and dazzling aurora mingle so completely with high, wispy clouds as to be virtually indistinguishable. Fat cumulus clouds hang low over the water eerily backlit by the brooding red-dwarf. One lone iceberg represents the assumed many which calve off from the great unseen ice-sheet dominating the planet’s dark side and drift slowly to their eventual destruction on global currents through a deep, planetary ocean of carbonated water. High overhead the barest hint of shorter wavelengths are scattered by the thick air, coloring the zenith a deep twilight blue. Could life evolve in such an alien environment?
But that's only how the daylit half of the planet looks. Please, DarkSyde asked guiltily, half-hiding, could I do one of the night side, too?
He knows darn well what drives me. It's wondering, "What would that look like?"
But part of the fun of this work is the extracurricular activity. Let's pretend the watery planet has a breathable and not-too-cold atmosphere, and certain people are younger again, for this next picture -- triggered by my own comment to DarkSyde that the planet boasts the "galaxy's biggest skating rink."
Eerily lit by the brilliant auroras of a distant world, British ice-dance legends Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean perform their classic Olympic-gold-medal-winning routine to the music of Ravel's Bolero (video). No need to worry that they'll fall through the ice as it's scores of miles thick; however, they've had to undertake a gruelling regimen of extra conditioning to perform with their characteristic grace -- in gravity twice as strong as Earth's.