February 14, 2014

“The Verge has an article about why life on other worlds would be far stranger than we might expect. They also interview some astronomers who are trying to narrow down the most likely locations for life. Quoting: ‘As it turns out, the small planets with long orbits that Kepler was finding were the ones it was least disposed to find. [After estimating how often red dwarf stars have planets and taking into account their expanded habitable zones, they] came up with an estimate Cowan says is “starting to get really close to a hundred percent, where for every [red dwarf] out there you should expect there to be a habitable rocky planet.” Furthermore, research exploring these planets suggests weirdness — and lots of it — in what life they might harbor. For instance, the dim light coming from a red dwarf may not be enough for plant photosynthesis like on Earth. This may lead plants to be black instead of green in order to absorb more available light. Even weirder, these planets likely don’t spin as they orbit. Since red dwarfs are smaller and cooler than the sun, planets circle them at close range, creating greater tidal forces than on our planet. While the tidal force on Earth moves the ocean up and down a few meters, that force on a red dwarf planet would be so strong it’d gradually slow down the rotation of planet completely. The result? One side of the planet would face its star in a permanently sunny day, while the other side would face the stars in an endless night.”

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