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. Okierazorbacker

    I"m amused by the comments like "Earth is not unique." This discovery only proves a couple of the most basic requirements for _sentient_ life; we already know it doesn't rotate, so Earth remains unique. This "new planet" may have a few microbes, but don't expect anything with arms and legs.

    There are so many variables that we will NEVER find a planet Earthlike enough to support us. We'd better get our act straight right here, not rely on that false hope for a "new home." It's here or heaven, people, get used to the idea.

    September 30, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yeeeah okay.

      Good thing we have you to tell us how the entire universe is. Thanks.

      September 30, 2010 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • drsurferbum

      it rotates...however its orbit around its sun so so short that that speed of rotation coupled with the speed of orbit makes it that only one side is facing its sun at any given time...Think about it.

      October 1, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Margatron

    LOL "relatively close by." 20 light years!
    I guess anything less than a human lifetime is considered "close by."

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

      That's not compared to a human lifetime. That's compared to the size of the galaxy. It's 20 ly from us. The galaxy is 100,000 ly wide.

      September 30, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Oh Well

    One of our “resident scientists” previously posted indicating that the discovery of this planet is probably the biggest discovery of the decade. Wow, I thought the discoveries of Twitter and Facebook were.

    September 30, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Prez

    What are the odds that there is a group of green people crowded around a telescope saying: "Joe you gotta come see this there is a planet a trillion gallometers away in the Furelise system and I think Furelise 581g might just hold life. Granted its 3 times smaller than us but look its perfectly 3 planets away from their star so Im a hundred percent sure it has life."

    September 30, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • G-May

      They'b be like!! yes my NIkkah!! we Rich!

      September 30, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Logan

    100% chance we should be fixing the problems on the planet we have now.

    September 30, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • MrsFizzy

      YESSSSSSS!!!!

      September 30, 2010 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott B

      Sounds good. Problem is, what you consider a problem isn't necessarily a problem for everyone else.

      September 30, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Maggie

    Our planet is unique there is nothing like it. I have no desire to go anywhere. I love this planet, my plan to live forever on it.

    MANY factors combine to make our part of the universe unique. Our solar system is located between two of the Milky Way’s spiral arms in a region that has relatively few stars. Nearly all the stars that we can see at night are so far from us that they remain mere points of light when viewed through the largest telescopes. Is that how it should be?

    If our solar system were close to the center of the Milky Way, we would suffer the harmful effects of being among a dense concentration of stars. Earth’s orbit, for example, would likely be perturbed, and that would dramatically affect human life. As it is, the solar system appears to have just the right position in the galaxy to avoid this and other dangers, such as overheating when passing through gas clouds and being exposed to exploding stars and other sources of deadly radiation.

    The sun is an ideal type of star for our needs. It is steady burning, long-lived, and neither too large nor too hot. The vast majority of stars in our galaxy are much smaller than our sun and provide neither the right kind of light nor the right amount of heat to sustain life on an earthlike planet. In addition, most stars are gravitationally bound to one or more other stars and revolve around one another. Our sun, by contrast, is independent. It is unlikely that our solar system would remain stable if we had to contend with the gravitational force of two or more suns.

    Another factor that makes our solar system unique is the location of the giant outer planets that have almost circular orbits and pose no gravitational threat to the inner terrestrial planets.* Instead, the outer planets fulfill the protective function of absorbing and deflecting dangerous objects. “Asteroids and comets hit us but not excessively so, thanks to the presence of giant gas planets such as Jupiter beyond us,” explain scientists Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee in their book Rare Earth—Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe. Other solar systems with giant planets have been discovered. But most of these giants have orbits that would endanger a smaller earthlike planet

    September 30, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • brianh

      I see that you are afraid of the unknown...If you are alive for the next 1-20 years you will be a very scared man indeed with what is to come.

      September 30, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott B

      Of course we're in a perfect place for us. That's why we evolved to be the way we are.

      September 30, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • MassiveMarbles

      @brianh, I could be wrong but 'Maggie' doesn't seem like a man's name, beyond that I agree with her that our planet is still here because we are protected by many different levels of influence. I don't think she's afraid, she's a realist. Besides, there will assuredly be countless deaths involved with our ventures out in space. Whole ships, settlements, colonies will eventually be lost to all types of adverse conditions once humans do actually reach for the stars.

      My problem with us being out there is because man has grown to be no more than ignorant self-destructive apes bent on acquisition and destruction. Look at our recent history of exploration on our own planet. Why would we even consider carrying our message of hatred, violence and enslavement to other worlds?

      September 30, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tiff

      I agree with Massive Marbles

      Realism is not fear. and intelligent life is a much different thing than "life" We are the way we are due to the many many factors that had to be in sych for it all to work.
      Until humanity on earth learns to repect the natural environments, we have no buisiness going anywhere. Someone mentioned AVATAR earlier.. that movie while fiction is a perfect example of why we need to stay away. It sucks that is is political, but until the top 10% stop being alowwed to make te decisions for the rest of us, this behavior will continue.

      September 30, 2010 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff P

      To correct you, the vast majority of stars are like our sun. Ou sun is an average star on the main sequence, where the vast majority of stars fall.

      September 30, 2010 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yeeeah okay.

      Like Scott said. Everything seems perfect because we evolved here. The bottom of the ocean seems perfect for some life forms, but wouldnt seem that great too us. Our place in the universe is special, but that doesnt mean it is unique. Considering we know such a miniscule amount of space, I dont think any of us should give absolutes, except that we absolutely have no idea.

      September 30, 2010 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
  7. DeeDee

    "The chances for life on this planet are 100 percent," "I have almost no doubt about it."

    Anyone else see the logic problem in this statement?

    September 30, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • MrsFizzy

      LOLOL

      September 30, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      Seriously! I was thinking the same thing. Who actually believes this crap? We are NEVER going to inhabit another planet. I find it interesting that some people are willing to believe in science fiction fantasies instead of just acknowledging God. The Earth is incredibly unique and its just truly amazing when you realize just how violent and hostile the atmosphere is, yet here we are protected. He's got the whole world in his hands.

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

      @mary... Hey, we are protected mainly from this HUGE planet in our solar system called, UH, Jupiter which due to its huge force of gravity, deflects killer asteroids among other space things away from this planet. So, um yea go "god'

      September 30, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      wow Rob you really put me in my place. That explains everything. Way to go. You are super smart.

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

      @Mary... LOL, I guess you don't really understand how sarcasm works. But simply stated, you tried to say that "god' is the reason we are safe and here to begin with, when in fact there are actual scientific forces such as jupiter that do that. Not some mysterious creator at work.

      September 30, 2010 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tiff

      You all are taking it out of context...

      There is a 100% possibility for life based on the planet's conditions as we know them at this time.. He is almost sure that there actually is life and that their calculations of the conditions are correct.

      Didn't any of you ever take a science class? Dont know what a hypothesis is then huh?

      September 30, 2010 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Yeahimright

    @Kevin, This planet is still rotating, Its just that its axis would be horizontal in relation to its host star. Their is a word for this kind of orbit. I can't recall the terminology right at the moment though.

    September 30, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      tidal lock

      September 30, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • tick

      nah

      September 30, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ben

    We've heard this one before!!! Come on, don't be duped by these people...Read Genesis and believe good be of the net!!

    September 30, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Maggie

    * The four inner planets of our solar system—Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars—are called terrestrial because they have rocky surfaces. The giant outer planets—Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune—are composed mainly of gas.

    September 30, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Steve

    "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."

    if you have almost no doubt about it, then how can there be 100% chance for life? 😉

    September 30, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  12. littledebbieoatmealcookie

    there's an image available of Gliese 581g's first breath: http://littledebbieoatmealcookie.wordpress.com/explosion/

    September 30, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  13. David

    Hats off to Freeman for calling out the nihilists.

    It's one thing to want to take care of "Mother Earth".

    It's a completely different matter altogether to hate humankind for its imperfections.

    Live well.

    September 30, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Zarch

    Can we please send Obama there to scope it out first? Maybe Nancy Pelosie can be his co-pilot.

    September 30, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tiff

      Nah..
      Shawn Hannity, Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh should go first! Followed in a side car by John Boehner..

      September 30, 2010 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. poncho12

    They say its 20 light years away... does anyone know how long it would actually take to arrive there using current technology?

    September 30, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robbie

      Voyager I was the fastest so far at about 39,000 miles per hour. Do the math and if we sent a prob out now at that speed to Planet G, it would only take about 85,000 years. GL You won't even be dust by the time you arrive.

      September 30, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • poncho12

      Thanks. Do you happen to know what realm engineers are currently in, in regards to space ship development, pertaining to speed? Basically, how fast do they think they can make something go? (or if you know of a resource online, would like to check that out) Thanks.

      September 30, 2010 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Noah

      Several Decades

      October 1, 2010 at 7:43 am | Report abuse |
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