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. smith

    "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."

    ...maybe 99.9999999% chance?

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

    "I have almost no doubt about it." ... Apparently Vogt doesn't know what 100% means.

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

    @arthurr Physicists can figure out the force of gravity on a planet by using the formula F=Gm/R^2

    Basically, if they know the mass of the planet and the radius from the center to the edge of the planet, they can figure out the gravitational force by plugging those numbers into the equation. The "G" has to do with the gravitational constant, which I forget the exact number. If this new planet happened to be the same size as earth, and still posses 3 times the mass, than the gravity would be much greater.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Adam Hunter

    I want to move there!

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

    Let's add another star to the flag and make it a state.
    Send the IRS out in spaceships to collect taxes from any lucky new Americans wandering the Glieseian plains.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  6. skytech5

    all they fond were plant x allen come from. just kiding I think that it would cool to find life there. maybe we should send a satlight thier to find out.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Les

    I don't know what all the fuss is about the 100% thing....
    There are people here that think ...er...uh... know that there is 100% chance there is a God!

    September 30, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Peter

    I hope like crazy that they can confirm some kind of life on the planet. It would be nice to know that there is life in other parts of the universe.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mogdaork

    Im still waiting for people on this planet to find a life

    September 30, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Kevin S.

    Gliese 158G is safe from human intervention. We are exploring places within reach but beyond grasp, A round trip there within a human life time requires attaining impossible velocities. This is more than just a temporary technological inconvenience. It is a profound reality still not fully absorbed by the public mind.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • blue

      Any attempt to reach this planet would necessarily be a 1-way trip.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Eric

    As a student of physics, I have to say it is a little unprofessional to make that statement to the media. It is a decidedly non scientific statement.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jim

    They found Krypton?

    September 30, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  13. BooKoo

    Based on the scripture and religion of Science, the statements made here are not supported, proven, even or testable by scientific theory. 🙂 No visual verifications of life and no way to prove it. From a speculative point, this is very entertaining.

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

      True.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • blue

      It is possible, just not with the technology we have. The composition of the atmosphere can be determined from spectral data when the planet passes in front of the star, from which we can determine the likelihood of life existing there.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Thomas

    Life possibly, but less than a 1% chance, intelligent life, impossible. Intelligent life on earth only because of the following: 1- the earth rotates causing a stable climate. 2- Large iron core in the earth giving the earth a strong magnetic field which deflects life killing radiation from the sun. This unusually large core was the result of a planetary collision during formation of the earth. 3- Ejectile from this collision also formed the moon which is at the perfect distance to exert the correct tidal forces on the earth to further aid in a stable temperate climate. 4- Massive asteriod hits the earth wiping out dinosaurs giving rise to mammals and eventually humans. We are pretty unique!

    September 30, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott B

      1 – We don't know this is a requirement. As long as there's liquid water (and that might not even be necessary) why couldn't intelligent life develop and survive with permanant light or darkness. As long as it's around the temperature water can be liquid, the sun's energy is getting transported to that side.

      2 – Most likely a requirement, but we don't know how often rocky planets have molten iron cores. Life could possibly exist that can withstand high radition. The key is the magnetic field is required to hold on to an atmosphere like ours.

      3 – Again, we don't know this is a requirement.

      4 – True, but we also don't know if the chances of an asteroid impact here is typical of other systems. Possibly without a planet like Jupiter that kept the asteroid belt from becoming a planet, a system would have much less debris circling its star.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  15. DUde 6

    I love comments on CNN, always makes my day.

    However, I must say I am very very happy my old astro-prof was interviewed. One of the most interesting and intelligent people I was lucky enough to learn from.

    I only hope that if there is pre-exsisting life on that planet, and if it is as advanced or more so than us, that we leave it alone. I prefer knowing we are the only intelligent lifeforms in this space, simply because it motivates us to make advancements and discoveries such as these. If we have no motivation, we will not advance.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
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