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. markus

    100% chance of life? Sounds like a wild and wacky astonomer to me. Most scientists need a little more proof before they throw around the 100% figure.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Michael

    LOLOLOLOL!!! @ John!! Got two of my own and how right you are!!!

    Hopefully we (earthlings for lack of a better term) will be able to someday develop technology to explore or contact other life bearing systems before we manage to destroy ourselves and our planet.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Shelby

    I'm coming Mr. Spock – you HOT Vulcun you!!! Love Vulcuns they are so big.:)))

    September 30, 2010 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. ex New Yorker

    "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."

    100 percent is NO DOUBT not ALMOST no doubt – did this California dude scientist ever study probability or is that no longer required in US science education? Get a little bit of data, misstate it with a lot of press coverage and start writing those grant proposals. USA USA!

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

    I can only imagine living on this world. The Daylands and the Nightlands. Vast forests(?) in eternal sunset, or sunrise. Burning deserts of endless mid-day heat, and a frozen forever night with ice so frozen it's hard as granite. With its sheer size, the comfortable (by our standards) "ring" from pole to pole along the terminator would contain enough land (and water!) to support an entire Earth worth of creatures and then some, not to mention the organisms that would be more than happy in endless day or night.
    100% chance of life? That's a careless statement. Red dwarves are notoriously active, and the planet may have been blasted by radiation long ago...but I do honestly doubt it...some form of life or another would evolve and adapt (the "sunset" side of the habitable ring would be nicely shielded by the planet.) Fascinating stuff, and Hooray for Astronomers!

    September 30, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  6. phatphil

    I have to question the judgment and training of any so called scientist claimin 100% chance of anything. There's not a 100% chance that the Earth will still exist by the time anyone reads my comment.

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

    OK I firmly believe there is life somewhere in the universe but how can a scientist say there is a 100% chance of life on a planet not directly observed and 20 light years away. Is there really enough empirical evidence to support that claim?

    September 30, 2010 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jeep or Die

    "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." – How can one say that the chances of life on the plante are 100% and then state they have 'almost' no doubt bout it....a little contradictory...

    September 30, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
  9. TC

    Good news is a new Earth, Bad news is the rich people and governments of this Earth will stop spending money on trying to save it and invest in their own travel to the new one instead, leaving everybody else here with no way to stop global warming, etc...

    September 30, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • phatphil

      TC, Sounds almost just like the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy except in the book it was the smart and productive people who stayed behind and sent all the gullible ones away. Hey wait, maybe this is just a big plot to do just that! Or maybe its a government plot to inspire everyone to be successful so that they can afford to be on the transpport ship.

      Or maybe it's just a bunch of boloney!

      You can have my spot on the ship.

      September 30, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  10. idahodave

    I think Steve Vogt should fly on over there and confirm his 100% confidence. Who says something as ridiculous as that when there is on possible way to confirm it. Seems really unscientific to me to make such wild claims, there are so many things needed together for sustainable life that the odds are really more against it than for it.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  11. John

    Chances are intelligent life is there. It has existed long enough for it's sun to obtain dwarf status, from this we can deduce it is several million years more advanced than we. Taking this advanced scientific reasoning into consideration we can easily deduce all we have to do to achieve contact is send them an E-Mail & request they send us a cab. When they get here & if we like them we can give them a face book account & be their first friend That would be one small step for man & one giant leap for aliens. Next we can give them food stamps & medicare.. FREE 😉

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

    Why do I feel like I had heard about this before? Thought we had already found Earth-like planets already... weird. But cool! Good work, humanity!

    September 30, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  13. peter

    George, you are right to a certain degree....
    The current thought is where there is water there could be life. Mars could have microbial life underground wherewater maybe stabe. ONe exciting fact is mars excretes methane which could be a sign of microbial life. Europa is also another candidate in our solar system to harbor life. Do to tidal friction a vast underground ocean is under its ice. Nasa will send a probe under the ice someday to search for microbial life.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jmb

    "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."

    Really?

    September 30, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Greener

    Kevin: The planet is rotating, think about it, if the planet is orbiting the sun and the same face of the planet is pointed toward the star at all times then it must be rotating, like how the moon only shows one face to the earth.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
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