First I saw it on my Google news page at work. Then I knew Phil Plait would have the story, and sure enough, Bad Astronomy’s got the details about Gliese 581g. It’s in the zone. The zone that could support liquid water. Plus it has enough mass to hold an atmosphere. The important thing is that it orbits its sun every 36.6 days, so you could have a birthday every four or five weeks. Would you get tired of birthday cards, presents, and cakes? Consider that everyone else would be having equally frequent birthdays. Life would be a series of parties on this planet.
Surprisingly, birthday parties are not the only reason astronomers are interested in Gliese 581g. This planet may or may not happen to support life, but who cares? It’s a mere 20 light years out. The point is that if we found one that close, the galaxy must be crawling with planets in the life-may-be-possible zone. There may be so many that we can each have our own personal habitable planet if not already occupied. If only we could get to them.
This discovery also puts another question mark on the “Where are they??” question. Are technology users pretty rare out there, despite a wealth of livable plants? Are they all Amish? Do they go extinct pretty quick? Do they evolve into little sparkles of light as once portrayed in the original Star Trek series? Is no one sending Von Neumann probes? Maybe they’re keeping quiet, or maybe this a simulation universe and the makers want to keep us alone for study.
In the image below, travelers have just arrived in orbit around Gliese 581g and the man is celebrating his birthday with a high-tech sparkler. The woman is dismayed to realize that the party theme called for a baggy red suit and not a purple bikini.