September 30th, 2010
01:12 PM ET

'100 percent' chance for life on newly found planet?

An artist rendering shows the four inner planets of the Gliese 581 system and their host star.

Gliese 581g may be the new Earth.

A team of astronomers from the University of California and the Carnegie Institute of Washington say they've found a planet like ours, 20 light years (120 trillion miles) from Earth, where the basic conditions for life are good.

"The chances for life on this planet are 100 percent," Steven Vogt, a UC professor of astronomy and astrophysics says. "I have almost no doubt about it."

The planet is three times the size of Earth, but the gravity is similar.

Dr. Elizabeth Cunningham, planetarium astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, says the discovery is a huge deal.

"It could have liquid water on the surface," she said. "That's the first step to find life."

The Gliese 581 system's orbit compared to our own solar system. The planet labeled G is the one scientists believe could very likely support life.

There are hundreds of known extrasolar planets that have been discovered in the Milky Way, but this is the first that could support life.

Earthlings won't be traveling to Gliese 581g any time soon unfortunately. Scientists say a spaceship traveling close to the speed of light would take 20 years to make this journey.

But if we did - we'd find some other things familiar. The atmosphere and gravity are similar to Earth, and if you're from the polar regions, you'd definitely feel right at home. Scientists say the highest average temperature is about -12 degrees Celcius (10 Fahrenheit), but they point out that the planet doesn't have a night and day - one side continually faces the star and the other side faces the darkness of space. This means one side is blazing hot and the other freezing cold.

Gliese orbits a red dwarf star called Gliese 581. Cunningham says "it's a Goldilocks planet."

"It's not too hot, it's not too cold, it's just right" for water to form, Cunningham said.

The area is called the "Goldilocks zone."

Other planets near Gliese 581g have been discovered, but they are not habitable and are mainly comprised of gas. Gliese 581g, however, is a rocky planet.

It was discovered using the Keck telescope in Hawaii which has been observing the star Gliese 581 for 11 years.

"Keck's long-term observations of the wobble of nearby stars enabled the detection of this multi-planetary system," said Mario R. Perez, Keck program scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington.

Astronomers are excited this new planet was discovered so fast and relatively close by.

"I'm surprised we found one so fast," Cunningham said. "The implication is either we were very lucky or these planets could be relatively common."

Gliese 581g is in the constellation of Libra. While Earth takes 365 days to orbit our star, the sun, Gliese 581g orbits its star in 37 days.

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Filed under: Science • Space
soundoff (1,327 Responses)
  1. Bud

    "100% CHANCE." Using the word "chance," just lowered the percentage back to 50%!

    September 30, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wha

      There is always a chance that it could be 100%... Of course there is an equal chance that it is 0%...

      September 30, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Help Here

    Hey guys, will you visit SaveStan.ORG a friend of mine with 4 young babies is fighting for his life.......Thanks

    September 30, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. VPZ

    Astronomers know of two other rocky planets that lie in the Goldilocks zone around their star.
    On at least one of these planets, we know that liquid water once flowed.
    We call them Mars and Venus.

    Is Dr. Vogt also 100% certain that life exists on these planets as well?

    September 30, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. AntiAntiProgress

    "Scientists say the highest average temperature is about -12 degrees Celcius (10 Fahrenheit)...This means one side is blazing hot and the other freezing cold."

    I wouldn't call -12 Celcius as blazing hot.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yeeeah okay.

      And with all of the intelligence you just showed, do you know what average means? Or do you just not read?

      September 30, 2010 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Sarducar

    "speed of light would take 20 years to make this journey"...no it will not.. the time will slow down as they approach the speed of light..that is the point of relativity.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • andy111

      well, maybe for those on the spaceship or whatever they are using it will become shorter (relatively), but for us it will still be 20 years. As you say, relativity

      September 30, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Finally, someone who brings time dilation into the equation. This is exactly right, 20 years would pass on Earth, but not to the traveler. I think the scientists were just caught up in the moment and mis spoke themselves a few times.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • cavemanstyle

      As soon as you hit the warp 1 button and you began travelling at the speed of light, first off, the images in front of you would speed up, as if through a high speed camera.. and the images behind you would stop instantly and perhaps disappear because the photons only last a millisecond and then disappear, and then no other light from behind you could catch up with you. The images on the side of you would become extremely shifted, and turn red because of the redshift. Travelling at the speed of light would be a an extemely terrifying experience.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  6. astro518

    I just wanted to point out that if this planet has one side that always faces the star, then it does not mean it doesn't rotate. It rotates very slowly such that the same side of Gilese581 faces the star as it goes round it.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • josh

      good point astro518, just because the planet isn't rotating on its own axis doesn't mean that one side is constantly facing the star The article states that it takes 37 "days" for the planet to rotate around the star. So theoretically in those 37 "days" the planet gets equal amount of sunlight coverage if it is not rotating on its own axis.

      September 30, 2010 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Noocrat in MN

    That is such a TERRIBLE drawing.

    ALL of the planets in the Gliese 581 system are larger than Mercury, Earth, and Venus. Gliese 581g itself is 3-4 times as massive and it's the "little" one.

    Yes Gliese 581 is smaller than Sol but there was no attempt at scale here.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  8. andy111

    So, which go is better? Ours or theirs? )) they should compete whose imagination is better in creating new worlds!

    September 30, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  9. andy111

    So, which god is better? Ours or theirs? )) they should compete whose imagination is better in creating new worlds!

    September 30, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  10. ***

    There is a God! I've been praying for this! Another planet with oxygen so I can escape patriarchy.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mordred

      Yeah but god doesnt like you. You're stuck here till we make an engine that goes light speed. *sigh*

      September 30, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • andy111

      How do you think their god looks like? i;m pretty sure it's an old white man with a long white beard... ))))

      September 30, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Danny Lesandrini

    No John ... this is EXACTLY what I mean. You said ...
    If you intend to replace evolution, you'd better have something better to replace it with than *nothing*.

    I'm not under any obligation to replace evolution with anything. My wife's father was a rocket scientist and he doesn't believe in evolution. He's also an athiest. Thus, your logic is wrong. Just because one comes to the conclusion that Evolution hasn't proved itself doesn't mean one believes in creation.

    What makes me so mad is people (and you can read it in comments above) who believe that given enough time anything is possible. Mutations are single steps that cannot divine the future. Natural selection may only work on mutations that are beneficial NOW ... not potentially beneficial in the future. This has the effect of expanding the "time element" exponentially. The 5 billion years the earth has been around isn't enough time … even if more than a fraction of that time was devoted to anything more complicated than blue-green algae.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • sal

      How the hell can you be an athiest and not believe in evolution? lol. that doesnt make sense. If we didnt spontaniously come into being, or we didnt evolve, then there is no other way. you cant half evolve and half spontaniously be created, and there clearly was a beginning because our planet didnt even exist at one point. so that leaves absolute cluelessness, with the rejection of all possibilities. which is a paradox. your uncle or whatever may be able to do difficult math, but dont ever let him become a philosopher or study realism

      September 30, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Danny Lesandrini

      Sal, you're mind is so shallow ... if I dove into it, I'd break my neck.

      If you can't except Creation because it requires faith, and you can't accept Evolution without adequate facts (i.e. because it requires faith), then you simply abstain from declaring a source for life. If you can't figure that out, how will you convince people like me, who know at least a little about the facts, of your point?

      September 30, 2010 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • JF

      Science agrees with Genesis. The same stages but in a slightly different order – darkness on the waters , then there was light ( preponderance of hydrogen – the principle ingredient of water – that is ignited because of mass to create an enormous release of radiation and light; animals first, then man, etc.
      There is not disagreement at all. It all comes down to the word "day." The day (era or age) we are living in or a calendar day that is based on the rotation of a planet?

      September 30, 2010 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Les

    Gravity and rotation are two diffeent things, yes you can have gravity withoiut rotation....
    We need SPEED!
    Getting to 0.1c would be a tremendous achievemant for man!. That would make the trip only 200 years!
    but i think the fastest we have travelled is about .00004c... (Somebody who knows for sure please correct me) A long way to go. A Long time to go.
    Can you imagine hitting something at that speed?, even dust or gas would end your day rather badly.
    We don't even know if we can send a messsage that far! Proof would take 40 years!
    Unless we can start travelling at multiples of Light Speed, it won't be worth it... and Einstein says we can't anyway.
    But, as Tim said... Good Stuff....

    September 30, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  13. rockyrooster

    None of these Astromoners are ever going to say, since we have not found life or have been visited by other life forms chances of other life seem very small at best. Why, because their funding will dry up.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott B

      Get real. They won't say it because what we know now doesn't support that. All we know is 1 out of 8 planets in our system have life. 1 there's a decent chance has life or at least had life. Those odds are pretty good. Obviously small sample size though.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jo

    Nothing is safe from being jobless...Even Earth might lose it's job...Fantastic...

    September 30, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  15. christrevolution

    They can't be 100% sure there is life in that planet, those are just assumptions. Even though is crazy that they found a planet like that however I have a question. The planet doesn't spin? Is that the reason why it's always facing the star on one side. Cause if that's the cause, doesn't that affect the atmosphere and other things. Also, what if they find this planet, similar to the earth, with the ability to support life, but there is no life there, no evolving life, would that by any chance maybe determined that life didn't happened just by chance?

    September 30, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • rockyrooster

      Sounds logical to assume that.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
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