The writers and producers of Star Trek gave us fantastic views of worlds we could only imagine. But, as our observational technology improves,science is discovering that some of the planets in our galaxy are even stranger than that. On the list of planets that have the potential to support life, Gliese 581c is near the top. It is in the orbital “sweet spot” of it’s star, meaning it’s close enough not to be a frozen waste, but far enough not to become a giant ball of flaming terror. But before you get too excited, there are two things you need to know.
First, Gliese 581c orbits a red giant, which means that if you were to stand on it’s surface, the sky would be crimson as far as the eye could see. This would not only affect you but would also, and likely already has, affected the plants as well. According to NASA predictions, any plant life on Gliese 581c would have to adapt to absorb light on the infra-red spectrum. This would have the side effect of making every leaf on every plant pitch black.
The second issue to contend with for anyone living there would be perpetual twilight. Gliese 581c is tidally locked to it’s star, meaning the star’s gravity is so strong, Gliese 581c no longer rotates. This would leave the sunward side in constant scorching heat, and the dark side nearly frozen. And living in the midzone would leave you contending with hurricane force winds blowing from the light to dark sides, and torrential rains, since no rotations means no seasons.
But despite the seemingly obvious problems, NASA has already fired a welcome message in the planet’s direction. If there is anyone around to hear the message, they’ll get it sometime in 2029.