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. Brandon

    Maybe that is the planet Lady Gaga came from.

    September 30, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tall Ed

      Nice one!

      September 30, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • justmeanddog

      What is a "Lady Gaga?

      September 30, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Tall Ed

    Let's send them a hello!

    September 30, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • RM

      Why on Earth (pun intended) would they? Look at the mess we've got here. Always fighting, polluting, making each other miserable. If they really are smart, they"ll stay away.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • E

      and ask them politely if we can take all their oil.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wang Long

      And they replied: "We thought you'd be interested in the diamond".

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

      Already done!

      "On October 2008, members of the networking website Bebo beamed A Message From Earth, a high-power transmission at Gliese 581 c" – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gliese_581

      At that distance, I'm guessing the "beam" pretty much hits the entire system, not just GL C.

      September 30, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Kyle

    I don't know who to blame – CNN for their terrible sensationalized science headlines or Mr. Vogt for making such a premature conclusion in his capacity as a scientist speaking to the press. I realize we all want to find life on another planet but we have to wait for more conclusive data and observations before we can say we've found it.

    September 30, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wang Long

      I'll blame none, because this discovery is that sensational.

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

    Sounds more like the ice planet "Repente" from the Star Trek movies.

    September 30, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. TallOrder

    So what we're seeing is 20 years from the past... so this planet could be blown up today?

    September 30, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ella

      20 Light years away, so yes, we are seeing what once was 20 years ago. But they have been watching it for 11 years, so 9 more years we could have put people on another planet ( if we had the technology to keep people in space alive and well for more than 2 years and you know that whole 10 times the orbital velocity of the current space shuttle whose program is being scrapped in order for humans to arrive and make it there in 20 years)! Perhaps Scifi ideas of that nature aren't as imaginary.

      Still, though, if it's tidally locked, out of a planet 3 times the mass of the earth (no diameters given on nasa.gov) then only that sliver of a ring of the planet could be a habitable zone. That guy that posted Peace? I want that too, but that habitable zone by being a habitable zone would create conflict.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • sf13

      Yes. You can be 100% certain that that very planet may not 100% exist at this very moment.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nonimus

      Technically, yes, it could be.
      But the chances of that being the case are extremely small. Remember that system, due to the type of sun, could have been around even longer that our own 4+ billion years. Why would an entire planet just happen to get destroyed in the past 20 years, seems unlikely.

      September 30, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nonimus

      Ah, Wikipedia is saying 7 to 11 billion.

      September 30, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Cougar-Friendly

    KHAANNNNNNNNNNN!

    September 30, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tommy

      Good one, I am still smiling over your reply

      September 30, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Glorf

    Tell me more about the 10 foot tall hot blue broads....

    September 30, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Drazul

      If they look like Zoe Saldana, im sooo there

      September 30, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Tommy

    Shasbot...so we think we are alone huh...amazing, I bet we are visited often, how did we get so smart, so fast since 1943 – come on, a little outside help I bet

    September 30, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Beasley

      And how did we get so dumb, so fast, since 1992?

      September 30, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tommy

      I think it was Clinton (smiles) he is still a box of rocks πŸ™‚

      September 30, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tony

      Ya think it was brain implants Tommy?

      September 30, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tony

      Tony, I don't think that's what Tommy meant. I think Tommy is saying that suddenly we went from steam powered locomotives to splitting the atom virtually overnight. Now I'm not trying to discount blood, sweat, tears, and good ole' fashioned human ingenuity but one has to admit the past century as compared to the century prior is a technological renaissance by any measure.

      It seems that we've learned a heck of a lot in an awfully short period of time. Modern humans have walked the planet for somewhere in the neighborhood of 150,000 years and just in the past 100 years we've learned to fly, split the atom, build mechanical computers and lay the ground work for quantum computers, mapped our DNA, manipulate our DNA, clone animals, travel to outer space, put our technology on other worlds, etc. Now of course there are probably a ton of other factors I've missed which could have played into this spurt in technology, but if you put all 150,000 years of human knowledge on a graph the past one hundred years would look like a giant spike on an otherwise flat line.

      Maybe that's just how we roll. πŸ™‚

      September 30, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Beasley

    I strongly suspect that this article was neither written by nor edited by the scientists involved. This planet, and others like it, are not seen directly by telescopes. Instead, their existence is inferred from the gravitational effects on their star, which cause it to wobble in a mathematically predictable fashion. This can tell us the mass and orbital period of the planet, from which we may determine its distance from its sun. Knowing the energy output of that star, we can get some idea of themperature on the planet. If we are very fortunate and the earth (our earth) lies in the orbital plane of the planet, we may get some idea of the size of the planet, and hence estimate its composition from its size and mass.

    But, this doesn't tell us about the atmosphere. It could be perpetually cloud-covered with nasty stuff, like Venus, or an almost complete vacuum, like the moon. And, we can't tell what its rotational period is. So, I suspect that some of the information presented in the article is hopeful conjecture. It's not unreasonable, but by no means as certain and measureable as the article implies.

    Optimistically, this place sounds like Mars. It's cold, too cold on average for liquid water. So far, our best scientific efforts have found no life on Mars.

    September 30, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • neoritter

      Obviously you missed this part of the article.

      "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.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brett

      The composition of the atmosphere can be measured by spectrometry.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. kabdib

    Terrible reporting. There's definitely water on Mars, we're pretty sure it was in a liquid state at one time, and we don't have "100 percent" certainty that there is life there.

    September 30, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tommy

      Hell, there is limited intelligent life here, there is enough to study right on planet earth, once we figure out what the hell we are all about, then maybe we can guess at the existence of life elsewhere

      September 30, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Kepler's Optometrist

    "100% chance of life."

    100% chance that life exists there, or that the ingredients are there?

    Who taught this guy the scientific method?

    September 30, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Joe

    This is pretty sweet. 100% certain there is life on the planet? If I have learned anything at all in life, it is that nothing is 100% for sure. Really? I mean, c'mon really! He couldnt go with like 99% certain, so he has a 1% margin for error so when hes wrong allowed himself an out? Reallly!

    September 30, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Michael

    But our own moon is also within the Goldilocks Zone. No life there.
    Plus, Venus has is the same size density as the Earth and has the same gravitation pull, but has no life.
    Venus has an atmostphere, but too CO2 dense to support life.

    This does look promising, but the scientists cannot say 100% chance of life there unless we send a robotic probe.
    If they said 99% chance of life, I'd buy it. But 100% chance is sort of off base.

    Hey, can we send a probe to Europa? After all, if any place within our solar system has life outside of Earth, it may be there.

    September 30, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Glorf

      But the Monolith said "ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS EXCEPT EUROPA. ATTEMPT NO LANDINGS THERE."

      September 30, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • MrsFizzy

      "Promising"? What does it promise – if you consider "100% chance"?? We have no idea. What if the life is a virus that instantly wipes out everything on our planet?? Or, what if we spend billions to eventually explore and find that whatever life form just doesn't have anything to teach us? Maybe it turns out to be just some goo that doesn't do anything and has no use at all?! These scientists can play with their own money on this one!

      September 30, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Earthling

    Hallo Gliesling, this is Earthling....let's meet half way.....

    September 30, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marty

      Only problem is it would take 20 years for our message to get to them and 20 more years for us to receive a reply.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  15. John

    Every 37 days... Happy New Year !!! Oh the hangovers!

    September 30, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
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