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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Can Nearby Aliens See a Triple Sunset?

Can Nearby Aliens View a Triple Sunset?

On Saturday I put up on this blog a post entitled “Where is the Most Beautiful View in the Universe?” I imagined nine types of views that can be considered candidates for the most beautiful view in the universe. One of the nine types was: The View From a Planet Orbiting a Binary Star. I depicted a planet where one could view a double sunset. But the universe has a way of surpassing our wildest imaginings. Today it was announced by scientists that in a nearby star system there are 3 “super Earth” planets in the habitable zone where someone might be able to view not just a double sunset, but a triple sunset.

The star is Gliese 667C, which is only 22 light years away, pretty much in the back yard of our sun (the nearest star is a little less than 5 light years away). Astronomers have discovered three “super Earth” planets in the habitable zone of this star. The habitable zone is the region of a solar system that is neither too hot for liquid water to exist, nor too cold for liquid water to exist. Each of the planets is a few times larger than the Earth, and life and water might exist on any one of them.

This star Gliese 667C is actually part of a triple star system, the other two stars being Gliese 667B and Gliese 667A. The three stars rotate around each other, but the three super-Earth planets of Gliese 667C revolve around just that star, rather than the whole triple system of stars.

Since the three super-Earth planets of Gliese 667C are in the habitable zone, and are not too large to preclude the existence of life, there seems a quite real chance that life may have evolved on one of the planets. An observer on such a planet would apparently have the incredible spectacle of being able to see a triple sunset – a sunset involving not one sun, but three suns.

Today's news story came up with an artist's depiction of the view from a planet of Gliese 667C, showing three suns in the triple star system. However, I doubt whether the artist got things rights. The artwork shows three whitish yellow suns. But Gliese 667C is a red dwarf star, and Gliese 667A and Gliese 667B are K class stars, which means they should have an orange color.

Below is my own depiction of the view from one of the super-Earth planets revolving around Gliese 667C, and I think this depiction has the correct color scheme. I imagine life existing on the planet, which is consistent with what we know about the three super-Earth planets being in the habitable zone. I also imagine that from one of the super-Earth planets you would be able to see one of the other super-Earth planets, and see just a tiny bit of its features. This is rather plausible given what we know, that these three planets larger than Earth are fairly close to each other.

So we have a new candidate for a type of view that would be one of the most beautiful in the universe.



exotic sunset