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. OhMy

    Why does Paris Hilton's life making breaking news but this doesn't? Our priorities are a bit fouled up.

    September 30, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Tom

    I think that we should go to mars and explore there first before we go crazy over something that is 20 light years away. its like dreaming about going to europe when you havent even been to your next door neighbor's house yet. take it one step at a time...

    September 30, 2010 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Funny

    "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."

    THIS is why science is a joke! Is it 100% or is there ALMOST no doubt. The two are NOT the same!!

    September 30, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • lena

      SCIENCE isn't a joke, just some of the people that report it.

      January 10, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. ***

    Sign me up! I would be outta here in a heartbeat.

    September 30, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Robbie

    I want to work on my Jedi Powers on the Dark Side.

    September 30, 2010 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bombsight

    Think of the natural resouces we could extract on a plant three times the size of Earth. You ain't seen BIG OIL yet baby

    September 30, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Tom

    i have a question...since it takes light so long to travel, and IF it were possible to intantly travel to another point in space, such as with a wormhole, AND if we had a powerful enough telescope, could we see earth in the past? you know, go far enough away, in a short time, with a power telescope, could we theoretically see kennedy's assassination? the blitzkriegs in ww2? i wonder...

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

      Yes you would be able to see all that. However, you would have to be lightyears away. Since we dont have that technology its impossible. Also, we would have to have a telescope that is powerful enough. which we also dont have. light travels at an incredible speed that we arent even close to achieving. What the telescope that picked up from the planet in the article is the light from 20 years ago. if we were able to go to that planet with a telescope that is good enough to see activity on earth, we would see what happened 20 yrs ago at this very time on earth. in other words we would see 3:35 pm sept 30 1990 when this post was submitted

      September 30, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott B

      Sure, if you have a wormhole that can instantaniously take you to a place many light years away, then you could see the Earth in the past. Probably not possible though.

      September 30, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  8. edmundburkeson

    And the proof is what? The artist's depiction? 100% sure that it COULD support life is not 100%. In the absence of facts its anybody's guess.

    September 30, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  9. taylor

    shouldnt be searching, we obviously cant go

    September 30, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. John

    Why don't folks just use the internet to go there & take a look around? It's already built & it's free. If you like what you see go to the nearest NASA surplus store &...People using up all their resources on earth is a myth, resources are mass therefore bound by the laws of gravity, unless of course someone has figured out a way to rocket our trash to outer space.

    September 30, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. brockjh

    HAHAHA Stupid Arthurr!

    September 30, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jan

    darn aliens! lets teach them how we roll on Earth! >:D

    September 30, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
  13. blue

    Although this is certainly an intriguing find, it's really unprofessional for a scientist to make a claim that there is 100% probability of life on this planet before more in depth studies are done, reviewed and published. In the same vein, it's really unprofessional for CNN to misquote the guy and use it as a headline.

    September 30, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Richard

    This time on Stargate SG-1........

    September 30, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  15. peter

    tom,
    If you were to spontaneously appear twenty light years from earth, you would be seeing earth as it was in thhe 1990's. This is because light travels at a finite speed.

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

      yeah it travels at 299,792,458 meters per second...it would be exciting to do if it were possible

      September 30, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • George from LA

      Earth in the 90's? Hell no! I'll travel 30 light years away then so I can relive the 80's! Now that's a decade worth reliving.

      September 30, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
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