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Extreme Weather

It took a couple of extra days to get our latest episode finished, thanks in part to our first real winter storm of the year! In Maryland, we definitely experience all four seasons. We get hot, humid summers and cold, crisp winters – plus occasionally some extreme weather like snow, hurricanes, and tornadoes. This “weather sampler” is a taste of everything in moderation, but it’s generally a temperate and comfortable place to live.

I’m so used to this, I can’t imagine living in a region with extreme climate fluctuations. When I visited Arizona, I sweated through days of 95°F or more… and then wore a sweater in the evenings when the temperature dropped by 20 or 30 degrees! I’m impressed that human beings can acclimate to desert climates, icy tundra, and places with dramatic and downright inhospitable weather.

Here at Goddard, researchers study planets – including those orbiting stars other than our own. We did a story on these exoplanets back in 2007, and scientists continue to discover new ones. You can track the current planet count at PlanetQuest. Details about these distant objects are sparse, but we generally know important details like their size and distance from the host star. From that, scientists can model their climates and whether they are likely to be rocky or gaseous. In other words – how much they are like (or unlike) the Earth and other planets in our Solar System.

The discovery of other planets out there fuels the search for life in the Universe other than on our own planet. With each new planet discovered, people wonder, “Could there be life on it?” For the planet we’re talking about in the latest podcast, the answer is an emphatic, “No!” Planet HD 80606b has a wild elliptical orbit and an even wilder climate. It spends part of its 111-day orbit getting absolutely baked by the star, then down to comparatively cold temperatures when it moves farther away. This is likely to cause high winds and huge storms – and climate extremes that a wardrobe change won’t remedy.

But perhaps this research will bring us closer to finding more hospitable planets, as we continue to look for Earthlike worlds out there. Bring your parka (and your swimsuit) just in case.

Check out There’s No Place Like Home… Yet, released today!


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