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I’m Sick of Talking Trump: Let’s Argue About What Would Be Good To Drive on the TRAPPIST-1 Exoplanets

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All right, everyone, let’s start with a not-too-startling admission: I’m already sick of talking about Donald Trump. However, in these first months of his administration, a lot of the news is in some way related.

Donald Trump speaking

Besides, when you write about cars, most of what he says is about Mexico, anyway
Photo: Gage Skidmore

I want a break. So, for kicks and giggles, let’s talk about the recently-discovered exoplanets, the seven Earth-sized planets found orbiting the nearby red dwarf star TRAPPIST-1. Three of these planets were found to be in the star’s “habitable zone,” where liquid water is possible to exist, leading to a lot of excitement and raised hopes that some day man might reach out and visit these worlds and find a new home or alien life.

I looked at that and wondered, “What if I could drive around on that?”


Because, clearly, I was the one behind the door when they were handing out the scientific reverence

So, here’s the question: if, hypothetically, you could pick one car and take it to one of the habitable zone planets, what would you take?

First, you have to know some things about these planets. They orbit a red dwarf star, so to be in the habitable zone, they have to be pretty close—so close that they are tidally locked (always face the star with the same side, like the moon with the Earth).

Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

That star being looking really big isn’t just artistic license
Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Also, being so much closer exposes them to much more UV radiation than we get on Earth. Oh, and one other thing. A couple studies say that tidally-locked planets, if they have an atmosphere, would likely end up with giant storms at the point facing the star, as well as constant, enormous auroras reaching far from the poles.

So, assuming that the planet has an atmosphere, what would be a good choice? I first got a few suggestions from my fellow editors.

The new Chevy Cruze Diesel sedan will offer the best fuel efficiency of any non-hybrid vehicle currently sold in the US

Photo: © General Motors

My fellow Editor Sam Huist suggested that the recently-introduced Chevy Cruze diesel might be a good choice, due to its high efficiency (52 mpg on the highway)—he pointed out that the efficiency could be maximized in a place where stoplights aren’t ever a thing, and the diesel emissions wouldn’t be as harmful to the atmosphere, since it has never been harmed by human activity.

2017 Subaru WRX red sedan car on display Chicago Auto Show

On the other hand, Managing Editor Tim Moore thought more about the possibility for inclement weather. Tim advocated for a Subaru, since the company’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive would help keep traction in the face of the outskirts of those super-storms. Senior Editor Aaron Widmar seconded that notion, pointing out that it makes sense for the hipster-favored brand to be the one to drive on a planet before anyone else.

However, I say, what about the rocks?

Man lounging on rocks

Right, those things

You can’t take just any car off road—that was proven when I was delivering pizzas once and nearly beached my Pontiac G6 on a moderately-deep pothole in someone’s gravel driveway. So, you need some good ride height to deal with rough terrain, something that can handle splashing through streams without swamping, that has a wide stance so it won’t be blown over in a strong wind, and will be tough and rugged enough to handle the work needed to survive on a new world. Oh, and with tinted windows, to deal with the stronger UV radiation.

Scruffy-looking guy in sunglasses

Somehow, I don’t think that just a pair of sunglasses would do the trick

So, I am actually cheating on my pick, sort of, because while I was pondering this, I was reminded of a vehicle that we had written about back in October: The US Army Chevrolet Colorado ZH2. This was a specially-modified version of Chevrolet’s mid-size pickup truck, designed for military use.

Chevrolet Colorado ZH2 Fuel Cell Vehicle

This one

It seems to check just about every box needed: its stretched chassis stands planted with a 7-foot-wide stance, riding high on 37-inch, rugged off-road tires.

Chevrolet Colorado ZH2 Fuel Cell Vehicle

Plus, since it has been made for military purposes, it includes several useful features like Recaro seats with four-point seatbelts, integrated tow hooks, and a removable portable power supply in the back.

Chevrolet Colorado ZH2 Fuel Cell Vehicle

Also, it looks like it has MyLink, which is nice

On top of all that—and I have to add that this last point really pushes my happy buttons—it uses an alternative fuel source: hydrogen.

Chevrolet Colorado ZH2 Fuel Cell Vehicle


Honestly, it makes sense to me to try to preserve what atmosphere might exist on these planets (since they are far more susceptible to solar wind just blowing all the air away).

News Sources: The Guardian, Astrobiology, NASA