Scientists: Oceans, clouds, rain possible on distant planet

The Planet Gliese

On May 18, 2011 French astronomers released information about a planet in a near galaxy that they believe has the properties to sustain life. The planet, Gliese 581d is seven times the size of Earth and orbits around the red dwarf star Gliese 581. While this planet is about 20 light years away, which is the equivalent of saying that it would take 300,000 years to get to the planet, the astronomers believe that it has life supporting potential. This report comes a year after a similar story that claimed the planet Gliese 581g, which is in the same system as Gliese 581d, had the qualities to support life. Though planet 581d was discovered four years ago, it was only after recent investigation that this new, radical theory was drawn. It is believed by scientists that this planet has the capability of having oceans, clouds and rainfall if the planet underwent a greenhouse gas event that would moderate its temperatures. Currently, the planet has a permanent dark and permanent light side, with the dark half being to cold to currently sustain any type of life. This problem could be countered however, if the planet had a dense carbon dioxide atmosphere. The presence of a substantial amount of greenhouse gases would prevent the atmosphere from collapsing and would allow the light from the star Gliese to heat the planet without the warmth escaping back into space. All of these conclusions were draw with the help of a new atmospheric simulation model. There are some unanswered questions about planet Gliese 581d that make it unsure whether the planet could actually support life beyond simply theory however. There is no way to be certain whether or not the planet has any atmosphere to build with greenhouse gases, it could be the case that violent winds from its star could have torn its atmosphere away completely. If this was the case, no amount of greenhouse gases could make the planet inhabitable.

It seems that every few months a story of this nature surfaces, giving images of distant, unreachable planets and the possible qualities that could make them inhabitable to humans. For some reason though, these stories never seem to lose their luster. There is something undeniably exciting about the prospect of life on another planet, whether it is through the migration of your own people, or the even more exciting alternative. There is something in us all that longs for answers about outer space and through these little shreds of information that scientist give us about atmospheres and ice deposits, it gives hope of a possible answer. Maybe it is the Star Trek/Star Wars nerd in our hearts, but for whatever reason, a story about a distant planets with oceans gets the blood flowing and the brain racing. Whether or not anyone will mention planet Gliese 581d again is yet to be seen, but this distant planet can have its time in the spot light as we all daydream about how it would feel to experience rain fall, 20 light years away from home.

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