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. Justin

    The only thing certain is there is no certainty. We might be alone and we might have others. It’s crazy for others to say they know. Same goes for God. Just face it no one knows! Not even you Bill Maher; and it’s not that big of a deal.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Em

    Everybody grab your towel, and do not panic.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. oda155

    Maybe this is where the Mayans disappeared to…

    September 30, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Shawn

    We Earthly Humans will be treated as "illegal immigrants" on Gliese581g by the natives. Their president will prosecute illegal humans, deport them back to Earth OR use them for petty works like cleaning, landscaping and on farms.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Deucecoupe

    Breaking news Angelina Jolie to adopt a Gliese 581g orphan.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jeff P

    Good job CNN, The quote was "100% at water." not 100% at life. There is a BIG difference!!!!

    September 30, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott B

      That's still not accurate. We have no way of knowing water is there. Venus is in the habitable zone of our star. No water. Same with Mars, at least liquid and on the surface.

      September 30, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff P

      The point is its misleading what was actually said. And your right, there is no way of knowing, but the quote is still different.

      September 30, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  7. nathan

    Wow! This is really cool... So did God make this planet too?

    September 30, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shawn

      Lets start fighting on which God has created that planet .. Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna .. ?? We humans just need a reason.

      September 30, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bobathan

      *Christian speaking*
      If God made the entire universe, then yes.

      October 29, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. bcwoods33

    How can the chances be 100% and then he says "I'm almost sure of it."

    September 30, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JackoB

    If there's no Unobtanium, I don't really see the point in all this.

    September 30, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  10. David

    100% chance? That statement means nothing. And if the planet is in tidal lock with its star it would be nothing like earth.

    September 30, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Fred

    BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!

    Ahem....

    BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    What a bunch of morons.

    September 30, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  12. MassiveMarbles

    Why should we have the audacity to reach out intergalactically to other life forms when we can't even accept the existence of each other? At this point in our time line we would only exceed in beginning a war with another species. Are we really ready for that????

    September 30, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Sucka4Lov3

    God Bless the future New America.

    September 30, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jay

    OMG its planet REACH

    September 30, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  15. TrUpatriot

    Let's steal their land and slave them whoever they are!!

    September 30, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
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