The alien planet Gliese 581g set off a firestorm of controversy earlier this year when astronomers loudly declared it to be the first truly habitable planet found outside our solar system.
An artist’s rendering of Gliese 581g. O, give me a home …
—Illustration courtesy Lynette Cook
One of several planets known to orbit the red dwarf star Gliese 581, the headline-grabbing world was described by one researcher as being “just the right size and just at the right distance [from its star] to have liquid water on the surface.”
Not so fast, other astronomers cried. Are you sure this planet actually exists?
Even at a mere 20 light-years from Earth, Gliese 581g is too far away for us to see it directly. We have to infer its existence based on the planet’s gravitational tugs on its host star.
One group found evidence for the plant in data from the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, but another group using the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) in Chile simply couldn’t find the thing.
Scientists are even now debating the discrepancy. And while they’ve been arguing whether Gliese 581g is real, two American citizens went ahead and laid claim to the planet and have started selling plots of alien land on eBay.
According to Jason Connell and Alison Tippins, there’s a loophole in the UN’s 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which prohibits countries from claiming property in space. They trick is, the treaty doesn’t say anything about private citizens.
The two entrepreneurs say they’ve therefore issued a declaration of ownership to the United Nations and have set up a page on eBay for selling ten-acre (four-hectare) parcels of the planet for U.S. $20 each.
My gut reaction after reading the eBay page is that Connell and Tippins know this a lark.
Dubbing themselves “The Benevolent Fisted Rulers of Gliese 581g,” the pair has renamed the planet Zarmina’s World, based on a nickname given to Gliese 581g by one of the discovering scientists. (Find out how exoplanets get their names.)
Connell and Tippins have also written up the sales pitch on eBay like a spoof of a brochure for a time-share condo. For example, some of the “advantages to being an early adoptive landowner” are:
- Zarmina orbits its sun every 37 days, so your life expectancy automagically increases to roughly 749 years.
- Landowners will be charged only nominal docking/landing/takeoff fees. Tourists will shamelessly be taken advantage of.
- Two years ago, a SETI scientist detected a ‘mysterious pulse of light’ from that region of space. Block par-tay!
Since we currently lack the space-faring vehicles that would make a journey of 20 light-years practical, for now your $20 buys you only a transferable land deed, a print of an artist’s representation of the planet and its star, a copy of the Bill of Rights and Constitution, and a scientific fact sheet and outline of intentions.
A portion of the sale goes toward supporting Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, an honest-to-goodness student group founded in the ’80s at MIT and Princeton.
I can’t say for sure whether Connell and Tippins have actually filed a claim with the UN. But I can say I dig their sense of humor.