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. oda155

    … I have no reason, none, to question that these guys know what they’re talking about… but… how do they know all this, how can you just say shiii like… “The atmosphere and gravity are similar to Earth, and if you're from the polar regions, you'd definitely feel right at home “… or, “The chances for life on this planet are 100 percent…” and my personal favorite… “I have almost no doubt about it.”… REALLY!

    September 30, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jeremy

    I haven't read the other comments yet but does the headline make sense to you guys? '100 percent' chance??? That's an oxymoron if I'm not mistaken.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • oda155

      ...so what they're really saying is....

      September 30, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  3. DSC

    There are going to be a lot of uncertainties measuring the basic properties of this new planet. Because this planet does not transit in front of its parent star, all we know for certain is the period of its year. All we can say about its mass is a lowest possible value, the mass could be considerably larger. This mass estimate would depend on the angle of the plane of the planet's orbit to our line of sight and on our estimate of the star's mass.

    While we have a good idea of the star's temperature and mass given its spectral type; there is still a lot of conjecture. For example, everything about the planet's surface gravity, rotational rate, whether it could hold onto an atmosphere would go right out the window if this 'planet' is a double, like the earth/moon and Pluto/Charon systems.

    Even so, this planet is the best candidate yet for supporting life. One thing that is certain is this planet will receive a lot of attention in the near future.

    It could be a good place to aim SETI antennas. If there is life there that has the capability to transmit radio signals comparable to what we can do, they should be detectable. Even if we detect nothing, it wouldn't rule out the possibility of intelligent life. After all, we have only been transmitting radio signals for the last hundred years or so.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Harvey Wallbanger

      Considering our primary occupation on this planet is tribal warfare; it is debatable if intelligent life has been detected on earth. Maybe we should look here first.

      September 30, 2010 at 10:18 pm | Report abuse |
  4. MV

    WOW...one would have to travel 300,000 times the speed of sound to make that journey in 40 years!!

    September 30, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • rockyrooster

      Does not sound that bad when you put it that way 🙂

      September 30, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Harv

      Try about 80 billion times the speed of sound

      September 30, 2010 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
  5. commander cody

    The stars & planets make up the body of God; mankind is the cancer. The last 4 words we'll hear: "The doctor is in".
    Unless, of course, it's Lucy..then all heck will break out.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  6. RBIE

    Wow!!! caveman style... That sound kinda scary.. I would rather bend my head over my ass and try to shoot through an ass hole!! Id smell bad but at least i wouldnt be burned to a crisp.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • cavemanstyle

      Yah man.. I wouldn't want to be the first chimp on the craft for testing that's for sure.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  7. DJS NJ

    Thankfully we wont be heading out to other planets anytime soon... we still have to figure out what we're doing here... like come to the realization that we need population management... resource management... and lots of other behavior corrections... someday.... ahhhh someday....

    September 30, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kim Jong-Il

      Dear DJS NJ,

      I am impress with the way your thinking. Perhaps you will come to glorious Democratic People's Republic of Korea, where all of what you say has been made possible under the wisdom leadership of Dear Leader!

      September 30, 2010 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
  8. boppita boopy

    We better hurry up over there and tell them all about Jesus before Al Quaida gets there first.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  9. dj

    This is a threat which must be eliminated! I've been wrong about things like this before, though..

    September 30, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  10. blue

    If we really wanted to, we could reach this planet with present-day nuclear pulse technology, except it would be a 200 year trip on a multi-generation starship. The children and grandchildren of the original crew would be the ones arriving.

    Except we don't really want to. We'd rather sit here, argue and waste away on a planet we're progressively turning into a hellhole.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • oda155

      ...so, Blue... do you have the designs to this "starship" in you garage on the wall?

      September 30, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • blue

      Read about project Orion. It was seriously considered by NASA prior to the nuclear test ban treaty in 1963.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • cavemanstyle

      Not necessarily.. I believe we can turn "off" the aging mechanism in our bodies. We are biochemical machines with conciences.. There's nothing we can't manipulate biogenetically, even after birth. I'm sure there's already a slowing or stopping agent in the works.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. pdxjoe

    We have no idea if there is life on this planet, and we won't for some time. Anyone saying otherwise is looking for grant money, which isn't a bad thing but they should be more cautious in making such statements.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  12. gail

    I'd go... sign me up.. seriously. As long as we have internet. I would never pollute the environment with Microsoft products... I promise. It would be a 'MacWorld'!!!!!!!!

    September 30, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • dj

      Just got back.. the view is nice but the beaches aren't that great.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Pradeep

    we are not alone!!

    September 30, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Tom

    Let me get this straight... "100% chance" and ""It could have liquid water on the surface," Sounds like they're trying to say that there's 100% chance of uncertainty about what they're talking about.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • oda155

      ...but here's the kicker... if there IS life there... why should we think they want US there? Just saying...

      September 30, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Michael Armstrong Sr.

    Yes there is alien life out there and they are here on our earth watching us and I have seen them on T.V. Barock Obama -Lady Gaga – Michael Moore – Bevis and Buthead there all E.T.'s and they come in peace .

    September 30, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
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