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. Roadtrip

    Cool! Let's go!

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

    and when I say life I do not mean the bacteria type or single cell stuff.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  3. lordpet

    >>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."<<

    Then it isn't 100%. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if there was life there. Wish we had a telescope powerful enough to take a peek.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • rockyrooster

      Maybe a day will come when we will see actual images of the planets.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Deucecoupe

    I'm now the sole real estate broker licensed in Gliese 581g. Buy now and get the best locations on this adorable 100% possible life sustaining planet. Lots available for as low as $1527. per acre. Only 4,000,000,003 lots left. Financing available through AIG. Act fast these lots won't last long at these prices.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • BR549

      I like the way you think.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Rodd

    The first habitable exoplanet ever found should be named 'Pandora', in tribute to James Cameron's timely epic Avatar.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. TRogers

    Hmmmm, "100%" and "almost" aren't the same thing...but this universe is too huge for us to be naive enough to think we are the only one's out there...

    September 30, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ZOOMER165

    LET'S JUST SAVE TIME AND MONEY, LET'S NUKE EM....

    September 30, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Les

    Danny,
    In order for a life form to survive, it has to change to meet the "Now".
    Every life form that thrives is perfectly suited to it's environment. That is fact,
    Environments change That is also a fact.
    So life must change– evolve, call it what you want. or become extinct.
    You and I nor anyone really has the concept of the huge amounts of time we are talking about here.. It is hard to imagine a thousand years, let alone a million.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Danny Lesandrini

      Les, I agree it's hard to think in terms of billions of years but it was made easier by an astronomer named Timothy Ferris who likened the 5 billion years to a 5 km road. Blue-green algae show up 1.5 km into it. The explosion of life was something like the last meter and man in the last millimeter. This is something a man can comprehend.

      Change is not "something out of nothing". Behe agrees that things change … it's only the degree and the number of steps of change allowed in a given time period that are in question.

      Natural selection does NOT explain why giraffes have long necks or why the cheetah runs fast. This is a complete misuse, nay even a deception taught to children to mind-wash them. Animals with short necks survived right along side of giraffes and slow felines exist with the fast. They were not "selected" while others failed to be.

      One "good" mutation (and there are few good mutations) is the one that makes people immune to malaria. It's also known as sickle cell anemia. An advantage in one way, but a disease, a disadvantage. A second mutation step occurred that kept the advantage of the first without the disadvantage. It's referred to as sickle cell anemia-H … H for Harlem, NY. Of course, the incidence of malaria in Harlem hardly justifies the mutation. The environment did NOT effect the change.

      The problem is that people get tired of trying to understand and explain evolution through the microscope so they turn to the telescope. Good luck on that one.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Byrd

    Now that they've found this new planet perhaps we should keep a closer eye on Area 51 to see if more people go in than come back out.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  10. The Jackdaw

    The first ship will be explorers. the second ship will bring exploiters and bible thumpers. The third ship will bring coffins.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Lunytune

    I don't know about you guys, but I'm definitely brushing up on my Klingon as a second language.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  12. RodRoderick

    At least now we know where those spies are coming from scene checking out our Nuclear Silos... lol

    I wonder if we will be sending people their in the year 2,520 to start the new covenant....

    September 30, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jeffrey Loy

    So, they found a planet, and without even going to it they can tell that it will support life? Total rubbish if you ask me. You need to visit it first and then make the determination. Oh well, its nice to see that there are people out there who are as dumb as me, but make more money.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Les

    Deuce, Sign me up for a million lots on the "good side"
    We can close after the walk through....
    Let's see, If I invest a penny today................

    September 30, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  15. b reed

    why do people hate humanity / themselves. look at the wonderful things we have done with this planet?

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