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. Nirakar

    Are these scientists trying to make us fool? The article says that the planet does not rotate like earth and one side of the planet is freezing cold and other side is blazing hot. How in the world it is like earth? They expect to be life in the planet and I did not know life can survive in blazing hot and freezing cold.

    September 30, 2010 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pickles

      Earth rotates on its vertical axis, hence the phenomena of day and night. This planet rotates on its horizontal axis.

      September 30, 2010 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • yeti

      perhaps life can thrive where it is neither too hot nor cold, around the center more or less

      October 18, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ken

    let's just go already. we ain't gonna live long enough to set foot on another planet if this keeps up. what's taking governments so long anyway?? Let's start with the damn moon for all I care.

    September 30, 2010 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Pickles

    Amber,

    It is rotating, just on its horizontal axis rather than its vertical axis.

    September 30, 2010 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dose of Reality

      Actually it is spinning at a rate that coincides with the speed with which it is rotating around the sun. In other words as it rotates around it's sun it is spinning at a rate that keeps one face constantly facing the sun. Our moon does the same thing which is why you only see one side of the moon. If you were to look down at the top of the moon you would see that over apporiximately a one month period it revolves exactly one time around it's axis. The same thing is happening with this planet.

      September 30, 2010 at 11:57 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Paul

    How do they know this planet does not rotate? Also – seems like the temperature is a bit cold to be in the 'goldilocks zone'

    September 30, 2010 at 11:20 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Volitare

    What a scary concept. Reminds me of the beginning of Pandorum (movie). It's an interesting concept, but what's to say we won't try and colonize there in the future. It's kind of scary to think about what the future holds for our children and grandchildren....

    September 30, 2010 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
  6. jjjwho

    I WILL PROVE EVERYONE WRONG WITH THIS COMMENT. none of you truly know anything about the unkown unless you have expirenced it first hand then it could all be fake.Never believe the government or the media always question becuase anything can be tamperd with and have been. so all the so called masters in science and astronomy plz dont comment like you know anything when truly you have no idea whats going on around us none of us except the people who have actually expirienced the event. so no more smart a** comments plz

    September 30, 2010 at 11:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Oh really?

      Did you see the routers and switches that encapsulated the IP datagram that contained your "genius" comment? For that matter, did you see any of the infrastructure that connected you to the "internet" you seem to trust exists? Does this website exist? How do you know you're not a brain in a vat? Forget the government, your SENSES are the real criminal here, out to trick you.

      Come on man, get real. At some point you have to draw the line between observation, trust, and skepticism.

      October 21, 2010 at 1:14 am | Report abuse |
    • skeptic

      So, what you are implying is that every morning, a few million government employees, media members and scientists all get together for a staff meeting where they agree upon the lies they will spread that day? Then they actually go do it? And none of those millions of people lets out so much as a peep that they're in on the lies?

      You're willing to believe that this scale of organization, cooperation and loyalty to dishonesty exists, but you can't bring yourself to believe that this story *might* be something other than a fabrication?

      Lots of luck out there buddy.

      Now – I have to get back to keeping that 100mpg carburetor safely locked up in my desk drawer.

      October 28, 2010 at 9:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Goofy

      All hail the great jjjwho! He is so much smarter than us, knows all, and sees all!

      I worship jjjwho!

      October 29, 2010 at 1:27 am | Report abuse |
  7. Chris R

    The best news I've heard so far this year. 20 light years away? Nothing in astronomical time.

    September 30, 2010 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ChayaChoka

    Sooner or later, we'll need a new planet for our mankind. Either for more resources or just simply to ease the overcrowded human population. However, Gliese 581 is still too far for us. In my opinion, that our best chance now is either Mar Polar or Jupiter moon Europa.

    September 30, 2010 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Leslie

    It really is amazing to me that scientists can see that far out. The calculations may be off by a few billion tons or a 99%, but still it is "far out" that we can see that far out. What a wonderful Creator there must be.

    September 30, 2010 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Carl Sagan

    A light pulse was detected coming from this planets direction so they've already said hello.

    September 30, 2010 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Hasmat

    YAY!
    Time to kill off another planet!
    Go Science.

    September 30, 2010 at 11:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Cathy Kayser

    Why wasn't this reported earlier? The article says that astronomers have been studying this planet for 11 years! Why the silence????

    September 30, 2010 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Levin

      Read it again. It says the STAR has been studied for 11 years. The planet revolves around it and was discovered much more recently.

      October 26, 2010 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • FlyingFish

      Conspiracy! Must have something to do with Area 51.

      October 26, 2010 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. letsbeginagain

    gge, pleeeze refrain from expressing yourself on science. Gliese 581g has never been seen by our scientists, never mind a presumed atmosphere. The planet has only been detected, only "seen" in the data. And no, water isn't found in space "mostly in the form of the elements Hydrogen and Carbon." I hope you're good at something, because good at science you're not.

    October 1, 2010 at 12:12 am | Report abuse |
    • gge

      water is found on mars, but as ice on its caps.

      water exists on one of Saturn's moons, Enceledus

      ice is one of the key ingredients of Saturn's rings.

      recently, India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar probe crashed on the moon and they are now examining lunar water ice.

      and yes, i admit i am not good at science, but i try my best to understand them to the best of my capabilities and not simply turn it away and just believe a space daddy did it all for the goodness of all creation.

      btw, if you dont believe me, thats fine, all you have to do is simply google the chemical composition of the universe so you can see for your self what the studies have shown us on what the universe is made of..... and no, its not pixie dust.

      October 1, 2010 at 12:52 am | Report abuse |
  14. Morthanveld

    details of this planet has been posted as an article in Wikipedia : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gliese_581g

    October 1, 2010 at 12:15 am | Report abuse |
  15. Paul

    It will take over 20 years planet time to reach it, but with relativistic effects, the ship time will be shorter. For example, if we could accellerate continuously at a nice comfortable 1 gravity for the whole journey, the travel time would be approximately 21 years planet time, but less than 7 years ship time.

    Of course, carrying enough reaction mass and power to sustain 1G for 7 years is another matter entirely...

    October 1, 2010 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
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