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David Nightingale: An Exoplanet

Size comparison of Gliese 581 c and Earth.
Public Domain
Size comparison of Gliese 581 c and Earth.

Planet 581C is so far away that our 'How are you?' is received by them 20 years after we say it. If they reply 'fine thanks', that's another 20 years -- which certainly amounts to a strained conversation. The first inter-planetary conversation ever made, using the Star-Trek-inspired warp-communicator, has no delays. Moreover, communication, with computer translation from the other end, is only possible with 581C once every 99 years, and the alignment passes in four minutes.

'Hello Earth. We've been watching you, and others, for many years, and our language converter handles thousands of planetary languages. You know, our homes are similar -- temperatures especially. We orbit this big red dwarf star -- close, of course, so we can keep warm. Your yellow sun is much hotter, but we were afraid of sun-burns, so we didn't colonize.'

'Colonize? ... Us?'

'Well, fortunately for you we didn't do it, and don't really care for the costs of war anyway. 5000 generations ago was the time of our own last, and final, war.'

'You've had no war for 5000 generations? That's like... ~ 150,000 years! We weren't even civilized then!'

'Ahem. No comment.'

'How come no recent wars?'

'Well, from what we see on our video archives -- we almost ruined our own planet. That final war left almost 1/3 of (what you call) 581C uninhabitable. And you have detected of course that we are 'tidally locked' -- meaning we have one boiling side and one frozen side, heaven and hell if you like, and have always lived in the temperate intermediate zone in between.'

'One third uninhabitable?'

'Yes. It's still being reclaimed, although some is still radioactive.'

'So what was your 'final' war about?'

'Oh, laughable! We're ashamed when we look back. According to the records many of our ancestors wanted to fight about which gods were the correct gods. Of course, there's never been any actual evidence of gods on our planet, gods of war, love, fire and so on. Incidentally, not long ago, we probed you and saw from your radio and TV emanations that you had a similar problem. No, we got beyond war; we made the firm decision to survive.'

'You just gave it up? Like smoking?'

'Smoking? Not sure what you mean there. If you mean old energy forms, maybe. No, our planet has plentiful energy -- light, wind, fusion. We also keep careful calculations, and so what you call 581C stays in good balance.'

'Did you say fusion -- isn't that dangerous?'

'You probably thinking of fission -- that was only a brief period. We gave up on that when the Federation was formed. No, fusion is nature's process for the stars, and we managed to copy it. It's great.'

'You keep mentioning Federation -- what's that?'

'Well, when we outlawed war, we put all our weaponry into the Federation. All groups agreed, except for a couple of holdouts, who thought there could actually be a winner. Things weren't easy, but after that wasteland I mentioned, the large groups decided to join everyone else. Our Federation continues research on advanced weaponry however, because there's no guarantee some wayward civilization might not try to steal our good life here, as we had considered stealing yours.'

'But, what do you do if you don't fight each other anymore?'

'What a funny question! Housekeeping, of course. Food production, infrastructure, continuous research -- we're always busy. We have -- we think -- one of the most beautiful planets in the galaxy, although we're still gaining knowledge about others. There are some terrible ones -- actually in worse states than even yours. Oh, there's much to do! In medicine alone we've extended our health and lifetimes (we live about 300 of your years). Of course, increases in longevity have always had to be compensated for by adjusting birth-rates and so on -- one of the many balancing acts that the Federation calculates.'

'That's fascinating. What about politics, and rich and poor, and marriage...?'

'You're fading, earthling... I'm afraid our 4 minute window is up. But it was a pleasure talking with you. Have a good century...'

'Oh dear -- you too, 581C... Bye...'


1. Gliese 581C orbits the red dwarf Gliese, in the constellation Libra, in 13 days. It has m=5M,  r=1.5R. Its g ~ twice Earth’s value.

David Nightingale has published in both the Astrophysical Journal and The American Journal of Physics, and is the author of the science-fiction novel The Centauri Settlement published by TheBookPatch.com .

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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