Sitcoms from Space

An Earthlike planet may have been located orbiting a red dwarf star in the constellation Libra. Bigger, stronger, and faster than Earth, the planet is thought to be one and one-half times the size of Earth, to have perhaps double the gravity, and to have a thirteen-day orbit around its star. Most importantly, the planet, Gliese 581 c, may also be hospitable to life, and perhaps not only of the extremophile variety.

What other forms might this life take? Humanoids with rippling foreheads? Little gray men? Almost certainly not. Fang-mouthed tentacle beasts? Bug-eyed monsters? Possibly. Something even more surprising and unexpected? Definitely. For a time, fungi ruled the Earth, and long before them, the stromatolites.

Then again, who says Gliese 581 c is habitable to us? It might well be tidally locked, just as is Mercury. Or rampant volcanism may have poisoned its atmosphere as happened on Venus. Or perhaps the solar wind will have blown away most of the atmosphere as may have happened on Mars.

But in the slim chance that Gliese 581 c is a living world, that’s evolved intelligent beings, that have built a civilization, and discovered technology, why not point our SETI antennas in that direction and listen carefully. After all, our radio and television transmissions have had time to reach them. As preposterous as it sounds, tuning in to alien sitcoms could teach us almost as much about their world as visiting it.

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