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. ESAU

    space trip lol

    October 11, 2010 at 2:28 am | Report abuse |
  2. astroboy

    I am an astronomer myself. I admit that we would like to exaggerate our discovery a bit in order to gain the attention from the public. However, Dr. Vogt went too far. Either he or the reporter needs to take Astronomy 101 again. In our solar system, we have two terrestrial planets, Venus and Mars that have a better condition for life. But they do not support the life that we have been searching for. It is incredible that this article claims 100% chance for life on this planet. Truly amazing....

    October 12, 2010 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. chances

    well we do not know yet...its a mystery. But, i think theres a little chance there could be life found...but no one else is right yet....

    October 17, 2010 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bill K Jung

    This article is misleading (maybe intentional?)
    Even the existence of the planet Gliese 581 g is in question among scientists and Gliese 581 g is listed as "unconfirmed" in the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia.
    "Francesco Pepe of the Geneva Observatory reported that in a new analysis of 179 measurements taken by the HARPS spectrograph over 6.5 years, neither planet g nor planet f was detectable."
    Well Dr. Vogt can say whatever he wants, but I am quite amazed that CNN only reported one sided story.

    October 19, 2010 at 12:40 am | Report abuse |
  5. Habdab

    Good grief! Get a grip people.
    One news comment written by an over enthusiastic reporter with a poor choice of words that probably took a statement out of context and all the loonies in the known universe crawl out of the woodwork. It was a sensationalist headline for goodness sake, not a religious statement, not a conspiracy theory. Surely people must be used to this kind of reporting by now?
    Besides, even if we could ever reach them, why should we pick on another planet and destroy that one like we’ve destroyed our own? What is to be the fate of all these inhabitable planets, to be overrun by the human virus?
    The truth is out there; but not close enough to do us any good.

    October 19, 2010 at 5:32 am | Report abuse |
    • JA

      Nicely put.

      October 22, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jon

    Shame on you CNN. This is one side of the thought...the small side at that. There must have been no further research on the topic. Most scientists say it could possibly support life, but we have absolutely no way of knowing. It would take going there to know for sure one way or the other, which is something we won't be doing. Someone claiming it's a 100% chance is pretty much considered on the fringe but most astronomers, which you would know if you had bothered to look elsewhere. And as far as what the planet looks like or is made up of...we don't actually know 100% for sure either. It's a good hypothesis, but we have not seen the planet with our eyes to know one way or the other. So we do not see that it's rocky, or has water, or has an atmosphere, or anything. It could be a gas giant. Our best theory on the effects of a planet on a star's wobble says it's probably a rocky planet...a theory. Do not jump the gun here and act as if it's certain, thereby giving people false impressions.

    October 21, 2010 at 5:47 am | Report abuse |
  7. Craig

    So what, Humans will NEVER go there or even send any kind of unmanned vehicle. NEVER guys, its a fantasy, and 100% probability of life, show me the "scientist" who said that, i will show you someone with a mail order degree.

    October 21, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  8. dmag

    ... is there oil on it?

    October 22, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JA

    What I'm trying to figure out is, what does God have to do with any of this? Whether or not you believe He is the Creator of all things is irrelevant. If God created Earth, He could have created another one don't you think? I am a believer in Christ but really, what does it have to do with this article? Come on people. What's the point of bantering back and forth at one another about proof of God's existence or lack of proof. What's the point of droning on and on about religion? I agree, organized religion is absurd, it has NOTHING to do with being a Christian. God is in your heart, and there will be many false prophets among us; but until Jesus makes a return or until the end of life, no one will REALLY have proof. It's all in what an individual chooses to believe. I'm really irritated how every issue in the world has to come down to whether or not God exists. Just saying.

    October 22, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Dononvan

    is this just a reflection of our own planet

    October 24, 2010 at 10:14 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Simba028

    I believe in life on other planets in the universe and I think it is the height of arrogance to think that we are the only inteligent life across this huge universe. This being said, I also think it is stupid to make claims about a planet that is 20 light years away. It sounds like this scientist knows as much about this planet as we know about ours. Funny, I didn't see the picture of the planet in the article... did i miss it. It is claims like this that cause people to ignore or distrust 'scientist'. We can barely image Pluto, how can know about this planet other than it exists based on light occlusion or star wobble. To claim that it has all of the elements for life is a guess at best. I am also impressed now that we know 100% means 'almost sure'.

    October 26, 2010 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
  12. Venu

    I wonder how do they see the planet which is that far? is hubble telescope is used for that? and how do they determine there is water or life on that planet? if we are able to travel there, then travelling on earth from one side to another will be in seconds/minutes i guess. wowwww

    October 26, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  13. lucerot

    ""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."" ===== 100 percent means *NO* doubt. Jeebus, what did this guy get his PhD in? Oh yeah, physics.

    October 26, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  14. carl botha

    "I am almost 100% sure" ????

    Yes, I predicted rain CORRECTLY for the last 30 years:

    "The changes of rain tomorrow is 50% - it is either going to rain or not"

    October 26, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. SolomanB

    I'm waiting for 'Google Gliese 581g' (a version of Google Earth) to see if we can zoom in on the aliens washing their space ships, walking their dogs...ya know...that sorta thing.

    October 26, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
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