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. bobjohn

    If there is gold or oil on this new planet I predict we will be there in 15 years!

    October 26, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  2. mdeg90

    yeah and how are we supposed to be able to get on the planet? so it doesnt really matter if we can or cannot sustain life on the planet.

    October 26, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ed

    I hope their is life there and I hope they have enough common sense to keep human kind off their plant or we'll screw it up as we have done to the Earth. Lets do they foreclosures there also.....

    October 26, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  4. FlyingFish

    Okay, I would be the first one to cheer if life was found on another planet, but Steven Vogt's comments about the presence of life on that planet dont even qualify as bad science..... His comments are a mix of speculation and wishful thinking. Our ability to detect this planet rests on our ability, after staring at it for 11 years, to sense the wobble it induces in the star it orbits. We believe we know: its approximate orbit from a red dwarf, its very approximate temperature, and that it is probably not composed entirely of gas. From this, our esteemed scientist declares to the world that there is a 100 percent chance of life on the planet. What an embarrassment to science.

    October 26, 2010 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
  5. KentAZ

    "'It could have liquid water on the surface,' she said. 'That's the first step to find life.'"

    Sure. And paper and ink are 'precursors' to books, right? Let me know when even a plausible theoretical abiogenesis model is formulated.

    October 27, 2010 at 3:46 am | Report abuse |
  6. csw4

    do you all realize how close this planet is to our sun? it orbits it in 37 days? our sun will choke on its last drop of nuclear fuel, expand and then swallow other close planets like mercury and venus! who wants to live near that in 4.5billion years?

    October 27, 2010 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  7. csw4

    to the one who said "we maybe able to survive but not thrive". one needs to learn how to survive and adapt in order to thrive.

    October 27, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Raz

    We now know for sure that there is intelligent life forms in the universe. The fact that they have never contacted us proves just how intelligent they really are.....

    October 28, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Matt

    Its very interesting that they found this. But...if it takes 20 years to get there at the speed of light, and nothing man made can travel at the speed of light...what does it matter? We can't even get a satellite there to take pictures that would make it in under a century.

    October 28, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  10. jaz

    I agree with Matt. It is best said,(if these claims are scientifically defensible) that there is a !00% POTENTIAL for life vs. 100% certain (rare in science) that life exists there. Evidence is most important in the latter case and statistics (which always have an error of measurement) in the former.

    October 29, 2010 at 2:12 am | Report abuse |
  11. kme

    100%-never.
    99% yes

    October 29, 2010 at 2:26 am | Report abuse |
  12. Eric2007

    They shouldn't have said 100% life on this planet although it's likely there will be life on any planet that has water and is within a certain temperature range. My feeling is there are tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of planets out there with life. It's simply mathematics... out of a couple hundred planets WE know of... there are at least a couple with water. Therefore, if you think about BILLIONS of stars... and many of those have planets... you'd have to be ignorant to think life doesn't exist elsewhere. And of all those planets, I'm more than sure some of them have creatures with the intelligence of ours... and have made up 'great sky people' that created and are responsible for everything. The number I'd love to know is... how many of these planets have HAD intelligent life on them in the past? When you think about it... the universe is many billions of years old... I think the last estimate I saw was 13 billion years. In all those years, there could have been millions upon millions of earth-like planets full of life just like here. Man on Earth has been here a mere several thousand years... and early life a couple hundreds of million. In the end, we are just like bees in a nest, thinking we are the only hive around. Except the difference is, we will likely never come into contact with another hive because of the shear time and distance it would take to reach them... but it is fun just thinking about the possibilities. If I could time travel... I'd LOVE to know how long 'man' lasts on Earth... cause it probably isn't for more than 50,000 years. And IF man lasted that long... I'd be interesting to see what effects we would have on Earth that far down the road. Are we talking going from 6 billion to 50 billion population? All the fossil fuels are going to be stripped away within the next couple hundreds of years... what then? It's going to be a bumpy ride.

    October 29, 2010 at 5:01 am | Report abuse |
  13. Eric2007

    And you can bet on that planet, there's probably someone named Obama screwing that place up too.

    October 29, 2010 at 5:13 am | Report abuse |
  14. HumanIsFirstPerfectCreation

    How about human are the first perfect creation from nature so human have to fill all of this entire universe. How about the temperature the energy to support lifes are our Creator so all living creation are the part of Creator. Then it is true we are one in Universal God. It answer all of questions from religions and proved by sciences.

    October 29, 2010 at 6:42 am | Report abuse |
    • DNA

      It is true the chemical reactions create first DNA first cell split by adhesive polarization. So the chemical reactions are our Creator. How simple it is.

      October 31, 2010 at 7:42 am | Report abuse |
  15. steve

    So we can spread like a disease across the galaxy...universe. The universe doesn't need us to leave earth. In fact, the universe actually quite discourages it.

    October 29, 2010 at 7:18 am | Report abuse |
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