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. Gabriel

    listen, i am thrilled that we have found another planet and all but i think that we already destroyed this planet so unless we use this new planet like we did in the time of the indians, i am giving the idea of going there two thumbs down.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jim

    @Dale, what's your source for that appointment? nothing on the UN web site about it.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. 5T1V roma

    blast it outta the sky before it sees us!!!

    September 30, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  4. abuss

    These are my favorite lines from the article.

    "....This means one side is blazing hot and the other freezing cold."

    "...It's not too hot, it's not too cold, it's just right" for water to form, Cunningham said."

    September 30, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bourne Blogger

    Beam me up Scotty... This planet sucks!

    September 30, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. gge

    actually, those Gliesians could be watching our 1980's MTV right now......

    September 30, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • PL

      Oh, shoot. You are right. We have about 10 years before they start receiving that crap from the 90's.

      September 30, 2010 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jason

    I think it's a tad bit irresponsible to say life is 100% certain on this planet. Since it doesn't rotate, there is likely no volcanism and no magnetic field, both of which played important roles in the development/preservation of life on Earth.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  8. U-S-A

    ***yawn*** until there is 100% proof to support his 100% theory, there is nothing to discuss.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Dale

    Would be nice if a none religion based civilization could be formed on, only chance of not having wars.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • RT

      Agreed.

      September 30, 2010 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ken

      Right... Cause WWII was about religion. The Russians and Chinese live in atheist states and they never fight either. Why do people always have to bring religion into things.

      September 30, 2010 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • gge

      nope, wwii wasnt about religion, it was just about catholics against non-catholics..... guess who were the catholics

      September 30, 2010 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Harry

    About how long after finding new life do you think we will go to war with it over its resources? I'm betting 5 years tops! Less if it looks like we could roll over them in short order.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • JFairweather

      Yes. Five years. Plus around 5,000 years to get there.

      September 30, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tim

      It'd have to be a lot of resources indeed to be worth going all that ways for.

      September 30, 2010 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Katman

    100% chance is no chance at all. It's a certainly.. Unless someone has gone there and back and has seen with their own eyes, how can you say 100% certainty? This is just another gimmick to make us believe they are discovering life elsewhere than Earth, but in fact they have not done so... I believe that there could be but not with 100% certainty..

    September 30, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  12. JOSEPH

    THIS IS A JOKE JOKE RIGHT? BECAUSE THIS IS THE FUNNIEST THING I HERD ALL DAY! LOL!

    September 30, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
  13. hans

    arthurr Said: "I guess they can see it's not rotating" actually, arthurr it is rotating but at a period which synchronized with the star in such a way that one side always faces the star- just like our Moon rotates but one side is always toward us!
    Arthur said: "How can they tell its gravity is 3 times the Earth???? -arthurr the gravity is a fuction of mass so if you know the mass you can tell what is the gravity!

    September 30, 2010 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Maclin

    I also think this could be part of desensitizing prior to disclosure.

    September 30, 2010 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Siferm

      What is there to "disclose"?

      If you are standing on this planet that makes you an alien to other planets. How you travel to other planets will depend on the technology as you are aware and....well, Sanity.

      September 30, 2010 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  15. taylor

    Heyit says that the one side is blazing hot and the other side is freezing cold...it wouldnt be so abrupt in the transition of hot to cold it would be sorta like our planet with the equator being so hot and the poles being so cold..no??

    September 30, 2010 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
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