Monday, October 04, 2010
This is what Google Trends seems to be showing us, a number of days after the planet's discovery when we can start to make some rough guesses as to how much interest the discovery of the first Earth-like planet in a star's inhabitable zone is creating. If you'll remember, the discovery of Gliese 581c also created a great deal of interest, but about a day or two after the announcement the overall conclusion seemed to lead to a planet much hotter than originally stated, and perhaps not quite as potentially interesting as previously thought. Not so with Gliese 581g, which has only generated positive press. Of course the planet could have no atmosphere or a runaway greenhouse effect or who knows what, but in terms of its position from its star it's in just the right place.
First here's what Google shows for the search term gliese over the past few years.
And breaking it down to 2007 vs. the past twelve months we get:
So keep an eye on that over the next week or two to see how the spike ends up progressing, whether there is more sustained interest this time as well. My guess is that there will be a bit more as there really is nothing negative or anything to debunk about this discovery.
The question is whether this is the extent of the overall interest in extrasolar planets, or whether other planets even more like our own (and closer to us) would generate more interest. I tend to favor the latter, as excitement over this discovery has been tamped down just a bit due to the star's distance from us - 20 light years is in our back yard compared to the rest of the galaxy, but it's still a phenomenal distance compared to our closest neighbors, and finding a planet like our own within a dozen light years would be even more exciting. Also, how much excitement a planet exactly the same mass as us (not three to four times, as Gliese 581g is) orbiting a star just like or similar to our own at exactly the same distance and within a dozen light years would generate is unknown but it's hard to imagine any discovery more exciting than that. The tidal locking and being around a red dwarf star may still make Gliese 581g just a little bit foreign to us.
So enjoy the press coverage over the next week or so. Videos like this are plentiful at the moment.
Meanwhile much closer to home, China's Chang'e 2 has successfully completed its first course correction and everything is going according to plan. It has now been 2.5 days since the launch, and total travel time to the Moon is 112 hours (4 days 16 hours) so it's just past the halfway point now.