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. Rory

    They should call the planet Reach

    September 30, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • musa

      This planet should be named Reach! I bet the covenant are already living there. Lets make some spartans

      September 30, 2010 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
  2. drico4u2

    i hope they dont ask for papeles lol

    September 30, 2010 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. drico4u2

    my burro es ready to go

    September 30, 2010 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Clark1b

    if evolution came about purely by chance ... and the exact correct timing and combination of chemical elements happened by chance even before that to make DNA/RNA etc. Then there is absolutely no way to statistically say that there is a 100% chance that life is present on that planet 20 light years away from Earth. There might be ... but we can't possibly be 100% certain. But why are we so arogant as to think that something that happens by chance would happen somewhere else? Why would it necessarily be carbon based .... why not boron based ... or magnesium based? If something happens by chance ... then scientists have no way to predict when, where, or in what form it will happen.

    September 30, 2010 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
  5. drico4u2

    go wake up u go boy

    September 30, 2010 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. chisp

    I think the society as a whole should invest 99.999% of their time trying to find life on other plants and develop the technology to get there

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

    I sure hope that this isn't blown out of proportion... oh, wait...

    September 30, 2010 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Seth Hill

    How do they know that the planet is "locked" to the star, with one side in perpetual day, the other in perpetual night? if it is locked, may not be a good candidate for life. Our own earth depends a lot on our rotation to keep liquid water, cloud cover, tides, protection from solar radiation, etc. Sounds like wishful thinking to me.

    September 30, 2010 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Daniel

    I love it when people make comments like, "it has the same type of gravitiy" or "it can support life", exactly how does anyone know this to be true? Everything is conjecture until someone steps foot on the surface.

    September 30, 2010 at 8:16 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Boomer

    Told my better half let's leave tomorrow and we should arrive just in time to retire.. Ha Ha...

    September 30, 2010 at 8:16 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Ikie

    Some people have been watching too much Star Trek and Star Wars.

    September 30, 2010 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jan

    "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."

    this has to be a mis-quote – I doubt the professor would say 100% and 'almost no doubt" about the same subject.

    September 30, 2010 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
  13. MassiveMarbles

    Honestly, anyone who is 100% of something light years away needs a new light bulb.

    September 30, 2010 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jack london

    does universe have boundary or not?
    even if there is this earth like planet, does it really matter to us?

    September 30, 2010 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
  15. MassiveMarbles

    let me rephrase...Honestly, anyone who is 100% SURE of something light years away needs a new light bulb.

    September 30, 2010 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
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