Planet Zarmina | J@N | 10.6.10

Planet Zarmina | J@N | 10.6.10

Scientists recently discovered a near-Earth planetoid orbiting a star only about 20 lightyears away. What does it MEAN?! Could it support human life outside of our solar system? Of course it’s got issues… it may be tidally locked, and we don’t actually know what it’s atmosphere is made of. Oh, and traveling 20 lightyears would take about 180,000 years using current propulsion methods. But a man can dream, right?!

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September 29th

  • A scientist has found an Earth-like planetoid orbiting a sun only ~20 LY away.
  • One of the only planets found to sit in the “habitable zone” around its star (where temperatures are favorable to human life, and water can appear in liquid form).
  • It’s been called “Zarmina” after the discoverer’s wife.

io9 kinda took the story and ran with it, coming up with many follow up stories, and interviews with the discoverer.  My favorite though is the collection of “post-colonization” pictures.

But should they have gone so far as this?  Scientists discover planetoids on a pretty regular basis these days, many of which have a remote (sometimes VERY remote) chance of supporting SOME kind of life… just not human life.

One big thing we DO know about Zarmina that might make it uninhabitable:
It’s tidally locked, meaning it has no day/night cycle — one side always faces the sun, the other always faces away.  This leads to huge temperature variations, and high winds at all times scouring the surface of the planet.

One big thing that leaves it a mystery:
It does not orbit between us and its sun, so it’s impossible to use Atomspheric Spectrometry to determine the contents of its atmosphere (measuring the way light bends as it passes through the planet’s atmosphere).

There are THREE planets within the habitable region in this star’s system (Gliese 581).  The only reason Zarmina is receiving such attention, is because the scientist that discovered it went on record as saying he “believes there is life on this planet.”  But belief and facts are two very different things.

That said… it’s nice to dream! 😉

So, how would we get there?

  • Based on current propulsion techniques, it would take a probe launched TODAY approximately 180,000 years to reach Zarmina.
  • Using a theoretical anti-matter drive (not warp drive mind you!) it’s estimated a ship fitted with this engine could reach speeds of about 92% the speed of light.  This trip would only take about 22.4 years.
  • However, due to Time Dilation from traveling so incredibly fast, the astronauts on board would only feel like 6.1 years had passed.
  • (These calculations also assume accelerating and decelerating at speeds that would cause Earth-like gravity on board.)
  • Even with an incredibly efficient Anti-Matter drive, you would still need 530x as much fuel as the mass of the rest of the ship, just to make a one-way trip.  Meaning, if the ship was ferrying 200 tons of people and supplies, it would need 106,000 tons of matter/anti-matter fuel just to get to Zarmina.
  • Link to the complete math.

Our instruments and methods used to detect extra-solar planets continues to get better and better each year.  Several prominent scientists feel there is a more-than 75% of us discovering an Earth-like planetoid by the year 2013.

But we’ll still have to figure out a way to get there…..


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