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 (1,328 Responses)
  1. Brian

    We could save fuel if we leave at the right time of year.

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

      Yeah, I think gas is cheapest in the fall. : )

      September 30, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Popeye

    This is the Squid planet. Highly evolved squid with government, religion and restaurants selling tasty man-icotti and cali-man-i.

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

      Sounded good til you said they have religion there

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

      "Highly-evolved" does not go with "religion."

      "Highly-evolved" goes with flossing every day, even though you don't believe in the Tooth Fairy, because you know it's good for you from scientific evidence.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Maiden PEI

    Hmmmmm...something doesn't feel right here.

    UN 1st contact ET ambassador just appointed & now first ever perfectly habitable planet found?????

    How convenient!

    Could the dark cabal be starting to condition the masses to fall for "friendly"...not !...ETs come to "save" humanity before the Earth cataclysms?

    Now that they know that a staged alien invasion won't be believed.

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

      It'a a multi-year ConservaLib Mayan plot. Only the Earth will end in 2012!

      September 30, 2010 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
  4. ET Phone Home

    Let's go there and fu** that planet too!

    September 30, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Randoms

    Kay, so I decided to go check the place out after work yesterday.
    They have opposing theologies, one land mass supplies 85% of the energy, and they all have fat arrses from eating fat abducted huminoids.
    Next.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  6. NotSoLameBen

    "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."

    It's a good thing we have "scientists" to calculate how many years it takes to travel 20 light-years at the speed of light.

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

      What's with the scare quotes around "scientists?" Scientists figured out that the star is 20 light-years away. Not everyone reading this article might know what a light-year is and so the author points out that it would take 20 years to get there even with spaceships that travel at the speed of light.

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

      Now it's you who's sounding silly. Who do you think established the star system was 20 light-years away in the first place?

      September 30, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • sf13

      Well crap! I guess it's pointless to send a post card.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Gumbaasha

    is there *pee-pee* on Gliese581 ? what element is "frozen" vs. "gaseous" vs. "liquid" Pee-Pee ??

    September 30, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • sf13

      Very well said.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  8. K-Pax

    I'm quite disturbed that you feeble humans (and I use that term loosely) were able to find time between your constant warring to notice that you're not alone in the universe, much less pinpoint my homeworld. I will report my findings immediately and have the harvesting ships enroute before week's end. Only your thick-hipped, busty females will be spared. FYI, on my planet Kim Kardashian is the physical female ideal. ALL HAIL FEARLESS LEADER, TOM CRUISE!!

    September 30, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  9. jtt

    gee what are the moronic religious idiots gonna say now eh?

    September 30, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • JoePub

      Making fun of others beliefs is a good sign of callus ignorance. But hey, it does pump up that superiority complex that gets built up through the act of being condescending towards others though.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Trey

      Good point. How will they respond to a totally unproven, obviously overstated assertion that has little to no obvious bearing on theology in the first place?

      September 30, 2010 at 8:10 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Rik

    I guess you could go to the shadow of the planet and jump back and forth from hot to cold. That would be fun!

    September 30, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • sf13

      Maybe...but you'd probably catch a cold and it would take like 20 kabillion years to get some NyQuil Fed-Ex'd there.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Deucecoupe

    only 20 years to get there? sign me up – Ludacris speed ahead. Oh and it better sustain life, cause it's gonna be a while before I'm ready for a trip back. Can you verify there are hot babes there also? If not I'll be needing several to join me.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      20 light years or 117,313,920,000,000 miles. It takes light 20 years to get there. The Concorde could fly there in about 10,032,323 years. Better get moving.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Engineer0128

      20 years if your traveling at the speed of light. thats 1.17569996 × 10^14 miles. Current space craft (granted they couldn't sustain fuel or life support long enough) can travel at 17,000 mph (if all rockets are full on, including booster rockets). This means that if moving at that speed non stop without consideration of fuel or lifesupport, you would reach the star in 788,960.739 . Yikes..... Not going anytime soon!!!!!

      September 30, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • amphiox

      The fastest current space probe we've got goes at about 100 000 mph, but uses a gravitational assist from the sun to accelerate. I think Voyager II is going aroung 40 000 or so mph, having used a gravitational assist from Jupiter. Don't know what kinds of velocities we could obtain with current tech (which all relies on gravity slingshots to boost speeds) for interstellar trajectories. But either way we're talking at least several tens of thousands of years transit time (ie several times longer than the entirety of recorded history)

      September 30, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • sf13

      You can bet there would be a motorcycle cop behind that first moon! Man, how would you explain that excessive speed to the judge?

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

      You don't need fuel to sustain speed. You just need fuel to accelerate and decelerate.

      September 30, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Regular College guy

      Actually guys, this stuff is pretty relative. Yes it does take light 20 years to get there, but that does not mean it would take us 20 years to get there if we "traveled at the speed of light" (Which is impossible under Einstein's laws). If we were really traveling at the speed of light, it would take not even one second to get there. However, we'd pass it up pretty darned quick. The reason why it takes light so long from our reference frame is that it always travels at the same speed from all points of view.

      ^What I just wrote is true, but it's difficult to explain. The faster you are going, the slower time passes, in free float. This is why physicists do not think we can travel at the speed of light.

      But! Going at say .999 times the speed of light would only take a little less than a year in your reference frame.

      October 1, 2010 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
  12. Mike

    I bet there is a lot of oil there (isn't that the best way to get the money men to research how to actually get there?)

    September 30, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  13. John Schwendler

    Great! Let's send Congress.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  14. scroo yoo

    Lets hope they never heard of Christianity or organized religion.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  15. nostradamus

    Just in time for 2012!!!

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