Scientists: Oceans, clouds, rain possible on distant planet
A graphic shows surface temperature variations on Gliese 581d and how wind patterns would moderate the climate.
May 18th, 2011
10:57 AM ET

Scientists: Oceans, clouds, rain possible on distant planet

Astronomers in France say a rocky planet orbiting a star that's one of our closest galactic neighbors may have all the ingredients to make us earthlings feel right at home.

The planet Gliese 581d, orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 581 about 20 light years from Earth, could support oceans, clouds and rainfall with a greenhouse effect that would moderate its temperatures, the team of scientists from the Institut Pierre Simon Laplace in Paris says in a study published this month in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

If you're thinking  the Gliese 581 system and possibly habitable planets sound familiar, you're right. Just last year, scientists reported that another planet, Gliese 581g, was a prime candidate to support life.

More recent studies have cast doubt on whether Gliese 581g even exists, although one of the scientists who claimed its discovery, astronomer Steven Vogt of the University of California-Santa Cruz, has defended his work, according to a report on

With the 581g debate in mind, the scientists in Paris decided to take another look at 581d, which they note is seven times the size of Earth. When it was discovered in 2007, 581d was thought not to be capable of sustaining life, because it has permanent day and night sides, with the night side too cold for living organisms, and it gets only a third as much energy from its star as Earth gets from the sun.

The Paris scientists used a new atmospheric simulation model to look at 581d. And here's what they found, according to a press release:

"With a dense carbon dioxide atmosphere - a likely scenario on such a large planet - the climate of Gliese 581d is not only stable against collapse, but warm enough to have oceans, clouds and rainfall."

The fact that 581d orbits a red dwarf star makes a big difference, they found.

On Earth, a phenomenon called Rayleigh scattering reflects heat from our sun in the form of blue light back into space. This helps keep Earth from overheating. But as the atmosphere on 581d is absorbing only red light, Rayleigh scattering doesn't come into play.

"This means that (light) can penetrate much deeper into the atmosphere, where it heats the planet effectively due to the greenhouse effect of the CO2 atmosphere," the scientists said in the press release.

Their model also showed "the daylight heating was efficiently redistributed across the planet by the atmosphere, preventing atmospheric collapse on the night side or at the poles," they said.

But don't pack up the spaceship just yet.

"While Gliese 581d may be habitable there are other possibilities; it could have kept some atmospheric hydrogen, like Uranus and Neptune, or the fierce wind from its star during its infancy could even have torn its atmosphere away entirely," the scientists said.

And even if you left now, in a current-technology spaceship, it would take 300,000 years to get to the Gliese system.

So there's plenty of time to figure it out. Or get Capt. James T. Kirk and the starship Enterprise to explore strange new worlds.

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Filed under: Space
soundoff (364 Responses)
  1. Smuba

    Sounds like a boring. horrible place. No malls, no Pizza Hut, no Cinemax. I'll bet at all the public restrooms the toilets are out in the open and the apples all have brown spots. I would rather spend a month in my babysitters attic watching reruns of "That Girl" then visit that dumb , stupid, boring planet that is lame and stupid and dumb and boring and lame.

    May 18, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • cucunest

      what is wrong with you? you sound bettered!!!!

      May 18, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Earth child

      smuba how old are u? u sound like 5...

      May 18, 2011 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Plutocracy

      This is my favorite comment ever.

      May 18, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Newsjoke

      You're kidding, right? Although, you do raise a valid point, if Humans do one day go there, will they be able to cultivate plants without Greenhouses which they can completely darken? Because plants need the darkness for their growing cycle as well. Of course, if life is possible, it will adapt to it's situation over time.

      May 19, 2011 at 2:47 am | Report abuse |

    Great! When can we move there?

    May 18, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Malcolm Davis

    Hmm.. 'dense carbon dioxide atmosphere', a planet 'seven times the size of Earth'. It maybe in the Star's 'Goldilocks Zone', with water and a temperate climate, but humans don't breathe Co2, and unless the planet has a really low density, its mass would mean that the gravity on the surface would make human habitation pretty well impossible.

    Having said that, there is no reason that 'life' per se could not exist on such a planet. So I think Gliese 581D should be a prime candidate for observations of the indicators of life in the atmosphere. I'm not even talking about intelligent life – but plant life and multicellular life forms would be a huge find. And its only 20 light years away, so it would have to be a high candidate for a probe – once we can develop some sort of spacecraft propulsion that can boost a vehicle up to an appreciable percentage of the speed of light.

    Malcolm Davis,
    Canberra, Australia

    May 18, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alien on Earth

      Wold it be closer if the probe leaves from Australia?

      May 18, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. GiGi

    Are you – fimeilleur & Religious sects – on hallucinogens or are your cognitave skills just in disarray? try actually reading my post and then, novel idea alert, THINKING before you hurl your cack around. NOWHERE in my post was there any sort of homage to sky daddy or the "Bible", such as it is (a book you, meilleur, seem infinitely more familiar with than I am). Stop painting everyone with the same brush simply because they aren't kissing your particular knee-jerking butts. My beef is with the fact that the science-devotees and the sky-daddy devotees are one and the same, both shrieking away, spewing vitriol and reducing an interesting topic – planetary atmospheres – to an infantile punch-up between Yea-Gods and Nay-Gods, when neither of you can put-up, in terms of irrefutable evidence, either way, and should all, therefore, shut-up. Worshippers of Sky Daddy and Science Daddy are babies who want their own way and have no honest interest in discussion based in fact. I had time only to read the comments on one page, which were more skewed to Science God’s purported infallibility, so I added a bit of level to that. My points regarding the inadequacies of Science God, while basic, were completely factual and clearly meant to refute Blind Faith, something Science God worshippers and Sky God worshippers have utterly in common. The Science Bible bears resemblance to the Sky Daddy Bible in that they change over time because neither one ever was or ever will be infallible, and if you think yours is, then your reasoning is a stunted as that of the Bible thumpers you castigate. Do do you really think the puny human brain has got the final lock-down on the true nature of existence yet? We don't even understand our own brains. Grow up.

    May 18, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • A primate who thinks about thinking

      I agree, humans still have very little knowledge about reality. But it increases exponentially! So, tomorrow we should know better than today. Someday we might get most answers. And that is not "positive" thinking. Just acknowledging that we are still learning how to do science.

      May 18, 2011 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • fimeilleur

      Also, (at the time that I wrote my comment to you) I had read ALL the comments in this discussion before posting a "knee jerk" reaction to your comment... by your own admission, you didn't read more than one page worth of comments before typing your own knee jerk comment... Hypocrisy is VERY predominant in religious people... just saying.

      May 18, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Newsjoke

      I agree, blindly accepting anything, is really an invitation to be lied to, that's just a fact of life, that many religious people seem not to understand, regardless which religion they follow. There is on part of your comment I do have issue with, you say the bible keeps changing. This is not true, the bible has been telling the same half truths and fairy tales for about 1500 years, give or take. What does keep changing, is man's interpretation of those half truths and fairy tales, and to someone watching them change, it's actually pretty funny what people are able to haul out of a simple collection of books.

      May 19, 2011 at 2:57 am | Report abuse |
  5. steve

    the mormons should send a missionary team there before the muslims get to it first

    May 18, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Adelina

      Steve, that's funny! But neither teaches theology right, though.

      May 19, 2011 at 1:28 am | Report abuse |
  6. brainchild

    LMAO! Thanks Gi Gi...he needed a big shut the f*#@ up!

    May 18, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
  7. JBK

    Discovering a distant. interesting planet....That's nice. Considering NASA now doesn't have a visionary human program with a set goal beyond low earth orbit to inspire taxpayer support, it makes me sleepy...Without one, with the possible exception of looking for dangerous asteroids, is an expensive hobby of sky watching something worthy to spend taxes on?? NASA may have purpose full projects that other agencies e.g. NOAA can do just as well...The vital ones should continue...If NASA has no specific activity absolutely crucial to the welfare and future of humanity, what is it for then???

    May 18, 2011 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
  8. fimeilleur

    The bible has changed? do more research. The only change is in the apologetics... What you don't seem to grasp is that the "science god" can be observed, tested and repeated...

    May 18, 2011 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • fimeilleur

      And yes, I did a lot of research on the subject of the Bible... no better way to point out the contradictions and errors than that. Now, you just claimed that I can't provide proof of the non-existance of a God (just as you can't provide proof of the non-existance of sugar-plum fairies, should someone ask you to)

      May 18, 2011 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • fimeilleur

      I invite you to research just one scientific discovery, replicate the experiment, note your observations, draw conclusions from them, compare your conclusions to the original experiment, and publish them in a scientific journal for peer review. THAT is the "religion of science". IF you find different results that disprove the original findings, you will be lauded by all of humanity for your discovery... maybe even find the cure for the common cold. Science does NOT require blind faith... you are 100% invited to challenge ANY discovery you wish... Science has NEVER claimed to be infallible... the difference between science and religion is science WELCOMES challenges and will readily admit an error, and adapt the conclusion to fit reality, (religion adapts perception of reality to fit it's conclusions)

      May 18, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • GiGi

      your ignorance on this subject is abysmal. the bible has changed considerably from copy to copy since its inception. If you had really done any research you would know that. So you're a BSing hallucinator, not merely a hallucinator.
      re: the sugar plum fairy: now you've become incoherent. stop snorting smack. and absolutely go right ahead and prove, irrefutably and with bona fide substantiation, the non-existance of "God" – and provide the links to the scientifically-sound substantiation. We are all ears here.
      As well, you clearly have Blind Faith that Science God has proven the non-existance of "God", REGARDLESS of what Science God 'requires' of you or not, and regardless of any actual fact, which was my point. Which again, has flown right over your pointy little head. But since you completely ignore the things I really say, and project your own inner conundrum onto them, imagining there are things in my words that there are not, there really is no point in my pointing out my actual points to your pointy-headed little self.
      P.S. you had a knee-jerk reaction because you respond in an AUTOMATIC WAY, WITHOUT REFLECTION. THAT is what a knee-jerk reaction is. for the love of "God", pick up a dictionary once in while. And I will happily admit my religion. I worship Yippie-Yai-Yay-Kai-Yay, God-in-Waiting. When Sky God and Science God bite the dust, Yippie is going to swoop in and bif peeps like you up the side of the head so your poor selves can finally WAKE UP.
      I know, brainchild, I should not be feeding the fanaticism. nighty night now.

      May 18, 2011 at 11:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reading the Bible

      Hi, fimeilleur,

      The Bible does change, please read it thoroughly. Research changes because it does not seek absolute truth. Instead, it aims at providing more comprehensive understanding. Adam and Eve were expelled from paradise not only for gaining knowledge (of good and evil), but to also to prevent them from reaching the three of life. So, you already know good and evil. Try not to judge all other human beings.

      May 19, 2011 at 12:15 am | Report abuse |
    • fimeilleur

      @ GiGi

      What don't you understand? It is 100% imposible to prove the non-existance of something. Hense, my point of the sugar plum fairies. You open a dictionary and learn the definition of scientific proof: test, observe, replicate. What I CAN do is demonstrate that there is no reasonable evidence to believe in the existance of God or gods (not even Yippie-Yai-Yay-Kai-Yay). I'll keep my post short... you seem to get distracted.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
    • fimeilleur

      @ Reading the Bible,

      By apologetics, it is meant that the "changes" are in the interpretation, but it's still the same story. Second, Adam and Eve NEVER existed... therefor could not be banned from a place that NEVER existed... even the Catholic church admits that one.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
  9. fimeilleur

    Why did I have a knee jerk reaction to your post? Because your "points" are clearly ill thought out: strawman arguments worthy only of the ilk like Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort. Yes, I may have painted you with the same brush, but, seriously, would you readily admit that you are Atheist, Agnostic or other religion other than the 3 based on the God of Abraham? I highly doubt it... therefore, I'd submit, your view is skewered in that direction.

    May 18, 2011 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reading the Bible

      Hi, fimeilleur,

      The Bible does change, please read it thoroughly. Research changes because it does not seek absolute truth. Instead, it aims at providing more comprehensive understanding. Adam and Eve were expelled from paradise not only for gaining knowledge (of good and evil), but to also to prevent them from reaching the three of life. So, you already know good and evil. Try not to judge all other human beings.

      May 19, 2011 at 12:28 am | Report abuse |
  10. Earth child

    soooo.. after we destroy the Earth.. this is where we are going to live next..hmmmm intresting..

    May 18, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Report abuse |
  11. peaceorpeace

    This is great news, now world must react to this and put an end to the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Toss a coin and the loser will be shipped to the new plannet. what do you think; 63 years already passed and the whole world is watching babies die over there.

    May 18, 2011 at 11:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Mr brotha

    I feel those that are talking crap about the bible or the word of God just dont have a simple idea to what they are talking about! or simply just listen to yourself!!

    Firstly they have preconceived ideas thus they think that the bible has contradictions? Before you even talk about anything you're already in a contradiction state as your preconceived twisted ideas and knowledge(or lack of knowledge) puts yourself in a contradiction state. Sad thing about this kind of ideaology groups, think they living reality when sadly they living in a BIG LIE!!! WAKE UP!!

    May 18, 2011 at 11:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • fimeilleur

      You seem to require examples of contradictions then (and a contradiction is defined as: conflict or inconsistency, as between events, qualities, etc... just so we're clear)

      GENESIS 1:11-12 and 1:26-27: Trees came before Adam.

      GENESIS 2:4-9: Trees came after Adam.

      GENESIS 1:20-21 and 26-27: Birds were created before Adam.

      GENESIS 2:7 and 2:19: Birds were created after Adam.

      Genesis 1:24-27: Animals were created before Adam.

      Genesis 2:7 and 2:19: Animals were created after Adam.

      Genesis 1:26-27: Adam and Eve were created at the same time.

      Genesis 2:7 and 2:21-22: Adam was created first, woman sometime later.

      Genesis 1:31: God was pleased with his creation.

      Genesis 6:5-6: God was not pleased with his creation. (Which raises the question, how can an omnipotent, omniscient God create something he’s not pleased with?)

      That's just the first book. Do you need more? Or maybe you are a Christian and only follow the New Testament?...


      Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani? that is to say, ;My God, My God, why hast
      thou forsaken me?
      Matthew 27:46 (Verse 50 says he cried out again before dying,
      but no mention is made of spoken words.)

      Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit
      Luke 23:46

      It is finished
      John 19:30

      These "quotes" are from his closest friends and followers... There are many more...
      Mr Brotha, now who's living in a BIG LIE?

      May 19, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Adelina

    Yeah...? Still too far away. Spare that planet from the greedy, blood-thirsty mankind, and fix our planet back to a less polluted world.

    May 19, 2011 at 1:10 am | Report abuse |
  14. Adelina

    I hope science classes are educating students properly on distance between stars and impossibility of conventional traveling by the light of speed besides giving dreams of space travel.

    May 19, 2011 at 1:15 am | Report abuse |
  15. Jon

    Well, I have been saying for quite a while "We have broken this planet. Can we have a new one, please?" I wasn't expecting one quite this big though.

    May 19, 2011 at 1:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Newsjoke

      It'll take more time for us to break that one. But we haven't broken this planet either, and we won't, all we'll do is make it unihabitable for humans, and let's face it, worse things could happen than humanity going extinct.

      May 19, 2011 at 3:33 am | Report abuse |
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