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.

Post by:
Filed under: Science • Space
soundoff (1,327 Responses)
  1. TheDude

    Maybe the planet exploded 19.5 years ago, and we don't know about its destruction yet.

    September 30, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • taylor

      HA! your probably right 🙂 we are just to focused on the past these days

      September 30, 2010 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jack

    what people dont get is that out of all the planets across the universe is there no chance that there could be life similiar or the same as ours doesnt mean that we dont think other kind of life can be in the universe. We are just hoping this is like ours so we can connect with them

    September 30, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Texas Pete

      Consider this. If you assume that all of our evolutionary science is spot on, then earth conditions have resulted in a sentient species capable of interstellar communication (albeit quite primitive) for no more then the last 100 years. 100 years out of 4 billion or so means that there would have to be a heck of a lot of planets with earthlike conditions for us to have found another species to talk to.

      September 30, 2010 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mike

    Right now, on Gliese 581g, there is some dude sitting at a computer typing a comment after having read about scientists discovering a planet. Only, this is what he typed: Right now, on Earth, there is some dude sitting at a computer typing a comment after having read about scientists discovering a planet. Only, this is what he typed: Right now, on Gliese 581g, there is some dude sitting at a computer typing a comment after having read about scientists discovering a planet. Only, this is what he typed: ... etc etc etc

    September 30, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      Hahaha!! That was great man!!

      September 30, 2010 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mikedog1969

    I wish we had the ability to travel at the speed of light. Go to this planet, meet new, and exotic beings, learn what they're all about, and kill them, stripping their resources before heading back home.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • MongoSwede

      Even at the speed of light it wouldtake you 20 years to get there and 20 years to get home. Not to mention that when you got home the earth would be thousands of years older than the day you left.

      September 30, 2010 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
  5. blue

    With our current technology, we can get to about 1% of the speed of light using nuclear pulse propulsion. That's still a 200 year journey in which several generations of crew would live and die aboard the spacecraft before arriving. Think about the "middle" generations that would never know what Earth was like, nor what their destination was going to be like.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Texas Pete

      Actually you missed a 0.

      September 30, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • blue

      D'oh, my bad.

      September 30, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Curious

    It would be interesting to see if life did exist on a planet that was not rotating where exactly it would reside on the planet. Would life form where sun is directly over head constantly? And what would the areas be like where there is non stop sunrise/sunset?

    September 30, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  7. If we left now...

    With a top speed of about 150,000 MPH, it would only take us about 3,803 years.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  8. peter

    sigh the site censored my comment. we have theoretical ships that can travel fifty percent the speed of light and then some. I suggest you read physics of the impossible

    September 30, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  9. John

    if you want to know how to travel the speed of light, watch a bunch of teenagers who have just been told they can't go out until their chores are done

    September 30, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. MassiveMarbles

    We seek our own destruction when we reach out to the unknown ignorantly

    September 30, 2010 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  11. opAZ

    Do they really have this tech. that allow them to look 120 trillion miles away?

    hubble can only allow us to see this much .... I wonder.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  12. RT

    @ funny: "THIS is why science is a joke...."

    Science is a joke? Really? You actually typed that (using your computer I might add).

    September 30, 2010 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  13. peter

    yes. we have had it for over a decade google how do do it.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  14. blue

    Even at 10% of lightspeed, time dilation would become substantial enough that the travel time experienced by the crew would be somewhat shorter than what we'd observe on Earth. At higher speeds (like .9c), they'd be essentially immortal to our eyes on Earth.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • poncho12

      so if they travel at 1/2 light speed, it will take them 40 years to get there, on their watch? or my watch (on earth)?

      September 30, 2010 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. George from LA

    Well to all of you morons who say life and life conditions would not necessarily be similar to us and Earth: you are wrong!

    We have already seen and studied plenty of places that aren't like Earth: no water, no atmosphere, too hot, too cold, not a rocky planet, etc..and guess what? absolutely no life. The moon, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, etc, etc. are all unlike Earth and there is absolutely no evidence of life, intelligent or otherwise. I think it is pretty safe to assume that Earth like conditions are necessary for life to develop. Unless you wanna fool yourself and believe an asteroid is a type of life.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • blue

      At 4 times the mass of the Earth, the higher gravity would make for life forms vastly different that what we're used to, at least if it were on dry land of said planet.

      September 30, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • MassiveMarbles

      Don't you "actually" mean....life as WE know it??

      September 30, 2010 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47