If you find yourself in Golden on any given night, many of the stars to the northeast are sadly washed out by the strong lights of Denver, Boulder, and campus itself. Regardless of this travesty, unless you are standing right under a street lamp, it is likely that you will be able to find the familiar five stars of Cassiopeia. Similar to the vain, mythological queen the constellation is named after, Cassiopeia seems to shimmer with an awe-inspiring beauty. Part of this may come from the surprising fact that the brightest star in this constellation is not a star at all, but a recent supernova, the light of which only reached our planet 300 years ago.
If you are unable to find this constellation, look for the “zig-zag” of bright stars about 60-70 degrees up to the northeast. Interestingly, if you were to travel to our nearest neighbor, Alpha Centauri, our own star would appear to create another continuation to the zig-zag pattern of this constellation.
As evident in many of the papers or online blogs late last week, scientists have discovered the fantastic story of Gliese 581g. For the past few years, astronomers have been finding many new planets, though most of these are super gas giants that could hardly sustain life. More recently, one particular star, Gliese 581, located 20.3 light-years away in the constellation Libra, has been an ever growing source of new planets that astronomers predict could harbor life. Gliese 581g was recently found to exist in the habitable region around its star, the place where water could exist as a liquid, much as it does on Earth.
This planet is much more massive than Earth, and unfortunately is likely tidally locked with its star, which means that one side is always facing the hot sun. Yet, still there is hope. Some scientists speculate that life could form in this “terminator zone,” the line between the light side and the dark side. It is my personal belief that this is likely, and I hope someday far in the future, beings from Earth could venture out to such a diverse and complex system.