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. Adelina

    Planet Earth is quite a rare gem in quite vast amount of space. We should cherish her more. And I don't think viewing from the space offers more beautiful skies than viewing them from some surfaces of Planet Earth. I wonder what kind of skies are viewable in other planets...? We lost so much pleasures solely from dirty air alone.

    May 19, 2011 at 1:36 am | Report abuse |
    • John Pedant

      Adelina, your lovely comment calls to mind the wise words of the great poet John Milton:

      Or bright infers not excellence: the earth
      Though, in comparison of heaven, so small,
      Nor glistering, may of solid good contain
      More plenty than the sun that barren shines." (Paradise Lost 8.90-94)

      May 19, 2011 at 8:30 am | Report abuse |
    • melekai joe

      Love it.. The wonders of space and time.... I wrote a song about the earth today, i hope you like it...

      May 19, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  2. seppe

    How convenient ,now that space program ran out money,they discover a planet wow,only 20 light year away wow,the Hubbell telescope was looking 3000 of lights year away,how they miss this 2 planet so close by????or is this another way to get finance for the program? ANOTHER MANIPULATION?.HO KNOWS.

    May 19, 2011 at 2:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Friendly Alien

      With the state of your grammar perhaps you shouldn't overload yourself with astrophysics. Maybe learn to spell and go from there. Oh and maybe forfeit your voting rights because that's just scary.

      May 19, 2011 at 2:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Newsjoke

      First offf, Hubble was looking, or is looking for totally diffrent things, they're not looking to find habitable planets, they're looking to solve the whole origin of the Universe question, so that requires a totally diffrent set of priorities. As to the American Space Programm running out of money, well, that's just because most Americans are too short sighted to realise that Space Exploration is more important by far than arming yourself to the teeth. But we really have religions to blame for that. They keep telling us that we're the only ones with brains in the whole Universe, which is a scary thought in itself. And I have to agree with the Friendly Alien, please refrain from voting in the future, for all our sake.

      May 19, 2011 at 3:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Jarno

      As said, the Hubble didn't even try to look for planet. You need different instruments for different purposes. If you start conspiracy-mongering, then please first aquaint yourself with the relvant science. As some sort of "manipulation" to gain more funds, a potentially habitable planet 20 light years away would not be a very good try – no matter what funds are thrown at NASA, we simply do not have the technology and experience to realistically make any sort of a plan to visit a star 20 light years away. As it is, this is just interesting discovery, to be perhaps made something of by some future generation.

      Much more plausible, but still technically hugely challenging task on the short to mid-term is visiting some of the icy moons in the solar system, and investigating whether they have simple life in the oceans below the ice.

      May 19, 2011 at 4:14 am | Report abuse |
    • John Pedant

      Seppe: It sounds as if you are confusing the Hubble and Kepler missions (both worthwhile in my opinion).

      May 19, 2011 at 8:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Mythfan

      Whoa there, pal. One conspiracy at a time. Uncover the truth behind the Kennedy assassination, the moon landing, and 9/11 first.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Shakey

      Don't listen to Alien's comments on your grammar Shakey. Your basic point is well taken. In today's economic climate, space agencies worldwide are experiencing funding cuts. It's a big reason why we've seen NASA find evidence for "life" in rocks, water on Mars, and earth-like planets that we could visit if we'd just give them enough money to build the star ship Enterprise. They need to stay in the news as funding shuts down, and they're working to stay alive in the public consciousness. You've got it right.

      May 19, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • ummyeah

      umm if you haven't noticed space is big, really really big actually. Not very convient at all about it really.

      May 19, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alex

      Recent polls found that many individuals think that the Federal Budget is 20% devoted to NASA, when in reality, NASA is about .5% of the Federal budget. Anyone who argues about .5% of the budget being wasteful doesn't understand the innovation NASA has spawned since it's creation. It has paid back it's investment ten-fold if you ask me. Another sad note is NASA's budget is about 1/2 of what it was in 1966, so any failures in the organization could be blamed on a lack of funding if anything, this is a place where 10 billion could make a huge difference. If any government agency knows how to get it's money worth it is NASA, with their 17 Billion dollar budget. Compare that to Military at 685 billion and you can begin to see the disparity of why our military is much too bloated for its own good.

      May 20, 2011 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
    • 5thApe

      Seppe, you should educate yourself before commenting and looking stupid. Hubble? NASA?

      "A team of astronomers led by Stéphane Udry of the Geneva Observatory used the HARPS instrument on the European Southern Observatory 3.6 meter telescope in La Silla, Chile to discover the planet in 2007."

      May 22, 2011 at 8:37 am | Report abuse |
  3. Newsjoke

    So, there's another habitable planet out there, it was really just a question of time before someone found one, just like it's a question of time before we find Alien life. And for all you religious nuts out there, that doesn't mean that God doesn't exist, it just means that your religions have not been playing it straight with you, but then they never have, and you should have known that they'd lie to you when you joined them.

    May 19, 2011 at 3:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Friendly Alien

      Well said, well said indeed.

      May 19, 2011 at 3:40 am | Report abuse |
    • thoughtpeddler

      Yes very well said indeed. Allah, Jah, and Hesus will make it rain on your birthday but I think it was worth it 🙂

      May 19, 2011 at 6:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Newsjoke

      AAh well, my birthday is in November, so they usually make it rain, regardless of how nice or mean I am to them. lol

      May 20, 2011 at 4:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Mance Lotter

      @newjoke: who said life on other planets and belief in God and the Bible are mutually exclusive? it's like you only hear and see what you want. It's like the sound of your own voice is the most soothing thing to you.

      May 21, 2011 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. LifeIsOutThere

    As awesome as it to read an article about a planet that can support life, especially one so near, just once I would like NASA or anyone to discover a planet that actually has life. Or record some images of organisms in an alien ecosystem. As Colbert would say, "Get on it Science!"

    I believe there is life out there, but having proof of it would help everyone (believers and skeptics) view the universe we live in a different and perhaps a more enlightened way.

    P.S. NASA rules! Don't cut funding!

    May 19, 2011 at 3:58 am | Report abuse |
  5. .

    read the bible . explore thinking. all things on earth..., and so on.

    May 19, 2011 at 6:25 am | Report abuse |
  6. buglord

    HEY! that book is useful for other things too! like beating those religious idiots who come to your door.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:03 am | Report abuse |
    • jesus

      i use it when i'm out of toilet paper

      May 21, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  7. buglord

    most humans, please get of this planet NOW, then die in space, quickly, you're nothing but a destructive infection that has the only goal of destroying all things. please die.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:06 am | Report abuse |

    On the contrary, the Holy Bilble is intended for all people to learn being responsible for their actions to others, the creation and ultimately to the Author. Individuals, who unfoundedly criticize the Holy Scriptures, possess little or no knowledge of either the Scriptures or its followers. They are just blurting out unintelligible thoughts lost in darkness of arrogance or even hatred for they do not know or want to see how to harmonize themselves with the Universe. They do not see the Hand that feeds them.

    May 19, 2011 at 8:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Sand

      But those who believe the sciptures to be both literal and accurate are falling victim to their own near-sightedness. Every word of the bible was a parable, story or tale passed down for years, sometimes thousands of, by word of mouth, before anyone wrote them down. The NT is all second hand as well, none of it actually having been written at the time of Jesus. Stories were changed to suit the teller's wishes, the audience, etc.

      The scriptures are good for showing us how people lived a long time ago and how they perceived things, but the word of God? Nope. There are no "Words of God" God doesn't speak using primitive language.

      Foolish are they who believe they know God's thoughts, presumptuous are they who think they know God's will and hopeless are those who think they know God's heart.

      If you don't abandon religion now and develop a deep one on one relationship with God now, you're going to find He is very disappointed in you when you get to heaven and find all you thought was truth was a lie.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jake

      Couldn't have said it better. You explained a complex problem in a few sentences that make complete sense. Thanks

      May 22, 2011 at 4:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Newsjoke

      Anyone who blindly accepts the bible as the word of god, needs psychiatric help. THE BIBLE IS NOT THE WORD OF GOD; BUT IT IS THE MOST EFFECTIVE PROPAGANDA TOOL EVER DEVISED BY MAN. It also does not really promote self resposibility, since it tells us that god will forgive us anything if we just ask right, which means I can slaughter billions but as long as I ask god for forgiveness, I'll go to heaven. Also plenty christians end up blaming the devil for their disgusting behaviour. And that's not exactly taking resposibility for your own actions now, is it? Religions are just corporations that promote fear of all sorts of things so that they can sell their product of false hope. And anyone who hasn't realised this yet needs help.

      May 20, 2011 at 4:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Ed Galbraith

      Yes. Well said.

      May 21, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mance Lotter

      Evidence that our society doesn't mind those who voice their opinions on things they know nothing about. I think this is like me saying, "I don't wear anything pink cuz I don't want to catch 'the gay'". No, I take that back, Newsjoke's post is worse.

      May 21, 2011 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sid Airfoil

      THe bible is a book. Nothing more. The book says your god exists, and that he wrote the book that says he exists. Circular "reasoning" is not reasonable. There are, and have been, MANY other books that say different. than yours But for reasons of random chance, social convention, and psychological need you chose this one to have faith in. But it's a Rorschach test. You see in it whatever you want. Some people see in it that the world ended three hours ago. Your fantasies are equally false, you just haven't figured it out yet. When you leave the 8th century and join us in the modern, rational world, let me know.


      May 21, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marley

      They Bible has been scientifically, archaelogically, historically, and everything-else-cally FALSIFIED. In other words, it's a FAIRY-TALE created by white men who wanted POWER. Besides, nobody can logically answer: WTH is "God"?!

      May 22, 2011 at 1:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Mike Gaither

      Besides the fact that religion isn't mentioned in this article, many of the people I've met who argue their Christian beliefs are just as ignorant (blind faith) as those who you mentioned arguing against it. Strike that, many are even more ignorant as they have neither read the Bible nor have any concept of the sciences. Secondly, I know of nowhere in the Bible where it talks about living in harmony in the Universe; instead, rather, it says as I recall, something about going "forth, prosper, and subdue the Earth." Subduing the Earth is actually about as opposite as you can get from living in harmony.

      May 22, 2011 at 1:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Your an idot!

      May 22, 2011 at 1:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Joseph Bleaux

      The bible is just archaic myths, written thousands of years ago by members of a primitive culture. Why can't people see that??? It's just so utterly obvious! Nothing at all to do with reality. What is wrong with people that they get sucked into a fairytale world so easily???

      May 22, 2011 at 7:38 am | Report abuse |
    • 5thApe

      Antony, you obviously have not read the bible. Its full of hate and evil. Read Deuteronomy 21 and let me know what you think. The god of the bible is a beast.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:32 am | Report abuse |
    • 5thApe

      Anthony. The bible is filled with myth an nonsense. How a thinking person can read this and think these are the words of a super deity amazes me. Its bronze aged myths; look at Deuteronomy 21 and let me know.....My cats morality is greater than your imaginary gods is.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:59 am | Report abuse |
  9. John Pedant

    Religion has not always been hostile to the idea (or afraid of the possibility) of multiple inhabited worlds. It is true that Giordano Bruno, the first to argue that every star is a sun with its own planetary system, was burned alive in 1600 by the Church of Rome, but when Nicholas of Cusa argued for an infinite universe with multiple worlds some 100 some years earlier, he was rewarded with a Cardinal's hat. Christians have often feared that multiple worlds would detract from or diminish the unique significance of Christ's Incarnation (and the Redemption of this world), but other Christians have welcomed multiple worlds as evidence of God's plenitude. In 1277 the Pope of the day reversed Church doctrine and declared that it was heresy to argue (as some Christians had argued) that God could not create multiple worlds. The point is that there is no necessary connection between this headline and religion. The most imaginative thinkers (theist and atheist) have recognized that the heavens declare glory–whether it is the glory of a personal God is of course another question.

    May 19, 2011 at 8:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Rudy NYC

      The Vatican apologized to Galileo around 30 years ago, who never suggested multiple inhabited worlds. Bruno made those suggestions and the Vatican has never apologized to Bruno. Bruno suggested that every star may have its' own world, each with its' own 'God' of creation like the Earth.

      May 19, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lastavius

      I completely agree. I'm in a faith-based system (a protestant christian denomination) that teaches that God is the author of all creation and that he did not create it in vain or to not be inhabited. God undoubtedly made multiple "unfallen" worlds. In fact, our world is the one spot in the universe where sin exists. Our planet is basically in quarantine from the rest of God's perfect creation until the sin problem is eradicated. Ours is a planet in rebellion. Remember the parable Christ told about the shepherd with a 100 sheep. One went astray and Jesus left the 99 to seek and save the 1 that was lost. Our world is that one lost sheep and Christ came seeking through the incarnation to do 2 main things...#1... to reveal the character of God and the principles that govern his universe (love, service, loyalty, humility, faith, obedience, etc..) and reveal to fallen man the plan of redemption. Ours will one day be a world redeemed. Not only will we be restored but our little world which has been the scene of the fierce conflict will be made new and will be made the throne of the universe as God through Christ makes his home here. Remember Revelation..."I john saw New Jerusalem come down out of heaven...". God's holy city...the place from which he governs the universe will be moved to earth once its made new and after sin has been dealt with. There will one day be no more death, crying, tears or pain for the former things will have passed away and all things will have been made new. Though my denomination is small in the realm of Christian thinking....I'm convinced that God has preserved his truth for those willing to seek it out. As a Seventh-Day Adventist I've learned to simply seek the way of Christ no matter what others think of me. Why do I keep the Sabbath....because Jesus did. Why do I believe in the Old Testament...because Jesus did (many Christians only accept the new but when Christ walked the earth and referred to the scriptures...he only quoted from the old as the new had not been written). Why do I believe that the mark of the beast is __________! Because this is clearly taught in scripture. I left the answer blank because I did not want to be offensive and because it usually takes significant bible study to arrive at the answer. Know this though my friend...that many are concerned about the mark and have many theories about what it is but a key to learning the correct answer is by first figuring out who or what the beast is?!? Hopefully, I've peaked some interest. If you want to awake before the mark is handed out....might I suggest the book..."The Great Controversy" by E.G. White. It will answer all your questions. God-Speed my friend.

      May 22, 2011 at 12:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      Have you ever read what you wrote from the perspective of a non-believer? Consider just how unsubstantiated and silly all of this would read to anyone who doesn't already accept the validity of your god. What would you think if this were someone of a different faith, saying the same thing about Lord Shiva?

      May 22, 2011 at 1:31 am | Report abuse |
    • PallasAthene

      It's 'piqued', and you have had too much Kool-Aid.

      May 22, 2011 at 1:46 am | Report abuse |
    • God

      Talk about delusional.

      May 22, 2011 at 2:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Mao

      Rom 8:22
      All of creation has had to suffer the curses in Genesis because of sin. There is a waiting upon all of creation to be restored back to perfection... so it's not so much that we're quarantined.

      May 22, 2011 at 7:47 am | Report abuse |
    • 5thApe

      Pure delusion. People, read this and ask yourself. How could this person know ANY of this. This is evidence of how religion is a virus of the mind. 2011 and a person can write this delusion down for others to see. I see know difference in your thinking than that of the Rapture morons that have just been in the news. Get help – fast.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |
  10. elvir

    Hi I think that we do not need another planet because you do not keep even this what we have on this planet where we live, but failplanet because they take oill out when a man loses blood he dies and this is why our planet dies oill losing blood, which means we need to save the planet we don t need more war i like this beautiful planet

    May 19, 2011 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
  11. jim

    I challenge you to prove God does exist. Go ahead I'm waiting.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
  12. jim

    The good thing about a planet that big would be that we could lump all the religious nuts together on their own continent and let them have at each other then the rest of us could finally have some peace. Oh yeah still waiting.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Jerry

      Prove that He doesn't exist...I'm waiting.

      May 19, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lastavius

      Be careful who you term "religious nuts" as you may throw the baby out with the bath water by lumping all people of varying religious beliefs together. Would you really want to be on a planet with only non-believers? Ask yourself what that would really be like?

      May 22, 2011 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
  13. jim

    Of course we are all assuming this planet isn't inhabited already. It may very well be in its own evolutionary state right now. Now that would be something if we could send a probe there and actually witness the process as it happens.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
  14. melekai joe

    am i coming in clear? How does talking about a planet go to religion..? Give us all break you smart people.. oh wisest of them all. The all knowing, all seeing jerks, that are part of the problem, more than the solution.. get a life!!!

    May 19, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joseph Bleaux

      Get a brain. If there's life on other planets, then humans aren't anything special. And no invisible supernatural man in the sky magically poofed us into existence. Scientists have found hundreds of planets around other stars now. Earth sized planets are hard to detect with current technology but they will be found. So there are probably billions of planets in our galaxy alone. Probably a LOT of them have life. Do you think each of those planets will have their own Jesus? Ha ha ha ha. Christianity (like all religions) is just so utterly stupid. Just archaic myths from primitive people Please get a brain and then you might be able to post something intelligent.

      May 22, 2011 at 7:44 am | Report abuse |
  15. seppe

    To Jarno+Newjoke+Friendly allen+John Pedant+and Mythfan,To all of you,i know exactly watt the hobble it is all about,one of you is trying to justify the level of stupidity by pointing out a small mistake on my grammar,the other believe we can find the answer to the beginning of time but yet don't know how to cure a common cold,the other one think that i am confused and you maybe wright, but only about you watt kine of specimen are you? and last one,he thinks that conspiracy is a product of Hollywood imagination,in realityHollywood made money out of conspiracy and conniving in which we all are victim of it,end by the way ,watt other language do you speak? (i speak 4 four other language).

    May 19, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Franz

      Point well taken seppe

      I have to say, criticizing grammar is not an argument, it is a nuisance.

      And conspiracies persist because we have been conditioned to distrust our gov't....When they start doing a better job of not lying then we can make fun of conspiracies. As it stands if you trust anything that "the official" says without researching it, then you are ridiculous. I think Space Exploration is certainly something we should invest in. But I think that NASA is full of people with no imagination but excellent engineering skills. The "public imagination" is watching "Jersey Shore" and could give a **** less if ET's landed on the White House lawn (which is of course what they would do....after going to New York). When are Earth terrestrials going to realize that, despite how superior we feel, all life outside of the earth is not a microbe or in a rock. If indeed NASA wants to score points, they can start by NOT wasting money to send a rover to Mars, to bring back a cup of soil.

      Also religion and atheism have nothing to do with this. Take it elsewhere.

      May 19, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Newsjoke

      Dude, I never said that I think they can find the solution to the beginning of time, I said they were looking into the origin of the Universe, you did apparently miss the point that I was trying to make, and that is, that I think that Space Exploration is a much more sensible way of wasting our resources than arming ourselves to the teeth, and researching more efficient ways to kill each other.

      May 19, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
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