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. Hank Fist

    1. No God. Your worship of ancient writings is silly.
    2. There's probably no life on this planet.

    September 30, 2010 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
  2. David Hoover

    But, wait, what will the Christians do?! "In the beginning, God created heaven and Earth"! At last, maybe we'll shut them up.

    September 30, 2010 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • RayRay

      I'm not a believer, but couldn't Christians just say that this planet is part of the "heavens" and was also created by God? Or they could even say that Satan created this world and there are possibly demons there. Or if it turns out to be a paradise they could say it's actually Heaven itself. If the the Earth going around the Sun, then the fact of galaxies, then the fact of the immensity of the cosmos, then dinosaurs and the vacuum of space once we actually poked our head above the clouds, did not shut them up ... what makes you think they will ever shut up? How I wish. It's about power. They will adapt.

      September 30, 2010 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
  3. GN

    I like this news. Finally something positive! We need more telescopes and astronomers, lets find out what else is out there.

    September 30, 2010 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse |
  4. megametar

    awesome!!!

    September 30, 2010 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. megametar

    🙂

    September 30, 2010 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
  6. megametar

    I wanna explore that planet.

    September 30, 2010 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
  7. karebare

    I knew it beacuse they have made so many movies and tv shows about aliens. we must have known somerhing was out there we just didn't know what and now we know.

    September 30, 2010 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
  8. M

    I've heard that they want to name it TANIS.

    September 30, 2010 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
  9. duke

    Buddha in his teachings mentioned 6 planets where life exists in a non-physical. Which means those creatures don't have a body but a mind only.

    How do we define life anyway?

    September 30, 2010 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. ...waaaaait a minute...

    lets send all our criminals and politicians and religious leaders there it will be like the new Australia.

    September 30, 2010 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Brandon

    How can he be 100% and "have almost no doubt about it" at the same time. Wouldn't that be more like... I don't know 95%?? Just sayin

    September 30, 2010 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
  12. mccccc

    I get a kick out of all the brilliant people saying we couldn't live there because it's freezing on one side and really hot on the other side. Do you also think that we shouldn't be able to live here on Earth because it's freezing at the north and south poles and hot at the equator? Do you not realize that there will be a zone wrapped around the middle of the planet with habitable weather?

    September 30, 2010 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
  13. joeah

    how can people live there if it is so cold? have we made contact with them or even seen them?

    September 30, 2010 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
  14. drewzicle

    We already knew there was life on Uranus, we can smell it.

    September 30, 2010 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • tim

      +1

      September 30, 2010 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • RayRay

      Yup. And according to a recent science article I read .. Jupiter and Saturn apparently played pinball with Uranus, which is why it's been extended out to it's present location. (Maybe that's why it smells so bad ..)

      September 30, 2010 at 10:44 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Joe blow

    GREAT!!!! I think I'll move there as soon as I can!. Then I won't have to put up with my b!tchy Tea Party neighbor anymore!

    September 30, 2010 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
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