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. Claire

    Brilliant, i look forward to religion explaining this one away...did God make the earth in 6 days then knock out the other planets on Sunday, LOL.

    November 4, 2010 at 7:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Scos

      the problem with your analogy about the 6 days process is that it's quite shallow... look the bible says "in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth..." that statement said "in the beginning" when God created the heaven and the earth.... does that beginning consisted of specific time limit? No, it only said "in the beginning" it could be a day, a week, a year, or a millenium, we don't know... but the fact remains in that statement he created the heaven and the earth in the beginning.....so He did not just knock out the other planets on a Sunday, that's saying there's a 100% chance there's life on that newly discovered planet..both purely speculations... ;P

      November 4, 2010 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Creator

    One first energy of life which human call the creator the universal god have to split into many form of energy element and mass to create more lifes all living creatures all things. So all things all elements all nature all energy all of us are the part of creator. Human is the first perfect creation by nature. It is the reason of human exists to be perfect to survive on this universe to live to meet to satisfy the one universe our creator.

    November 5, 2010 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
  3. gia

    it took more than 2500 years for human to find out, there are others life exist beside our planet earth...the man who we called BUDDHA already said that when he was enlightenment....

    November 5, 2010 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. SurviveOurSpecies

    Whatever its status the first option is to save our human species. By new technology we can survive not a primitive book.

    November 6, 2010 at 5:47 am | Report abuse |
  5. d

    I can see that the real estate at exactly where night and day is and will be the most desired climatically.

    November 6, 2010 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
  6. IceSinkIsland

    Still human need new planet space on growing populations because of losing lands to produce more food caused by so many building. Also ice now melting down sink so many islands.

    November 7, 2010 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
  7. Wzrd1

    37 day orbit would create some interesting tidal forces. IF it has an atmosphere, there'd be massive cyclonic winds.
    Chances of anything beyond life at a cellular level.
    AND it'd be real dark. A red dwarf is FAR from a bright star.

    November 7, 2010 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  8. BigAZ Steele

    There very well could be life. We are so stuck on how we live and what's needed to support life on this planet. Different eco system, water to any in any state (gas,liquid, solid) will support life. I think that;s where the 100% comment comes from. Expand your thinking process.

    November 8, 2010 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
  9. JPopNC

    So typical of evolutionist to believe any gobble-dee-goop that some brainiac comes up with. There are so many disqualifiers in the story above, but almost everyone immediately jumps on the bandwagon. "I have almost no doubt about it."...."It could have liquid water on the surface," ...."almost no doubt"......"it could have water"......woulda, coulda, shoulda.

    Then they spout off their "facts" like anyone would EVER be able to prove it one way or the other. Why not also claim golden hair beauties abound and downloading music is free? Give me a break!

    Everyone is quick to drag Christians into the foray too, like this story had anything at all to do with Christianity. Nothing...just everyone has a one-track mind that cannot deviate a minute from the usual garble. But the evolutionist's faith is in false reportings like this, that can never, ever be substantiated. Talk about having faith in something that can never be touched or proven. And you scoff at Christians???? Look long and hard in the mirror my friend, or better put, deal with the plank in your own eye before worrying about the splinter in mine.

    November 8, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • mendrys

      Not all evolutionists are cut from the same cloth as evangelicals are not either. But you seem to lump all evolutionists together and as such are just as guilty as those whose your rant is directed against. The theory of evolution has been been confirmed over and over again and the silly statements of Steven Vogt have no bearing on the veracity of evolution. As a Christian I have no problems reconciling the two. The KJV Bible is just an intepretation/translation of bronze age texts.

      BTW, It's been my experience that most believers like me have no issues with religion. We DO have issues when religion does interfere with the teaching of science as has been done over and over again throughout the centuries, to the detriment of us all. Never once have I ever heard a sermon interrupted by a non-believe spouting evolutionist theories but I have seen many times where a teacher is called to task for teaching evolution.

      November 8, 2010 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • wire-XL

      I am a golden haired beauty who will be offering free music downloads by the end of the month. This isn't just space talk. I am 100% sure of it. Just working out the source name. Apparently planet X has already been taken, and that's where my transmissions are coming from.

      November 16, 2010 at 3:27 am | Report abuse |
  10. mendrys

    His actual statment was:

    "Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say, my own personal feeling is that the chances of life on this planet are 100 percent," said Steven Vogt

    While I do find it to be way overstated this isn't the same that he is 'scientifically' 100 percent but he's just giving his personal opinion. Still a ridiculous statement to make.

    November 8, 2010 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peter Nyikos

      When Vogt's rationale is provided as in the quote "mendrys" provided, it only becomes more ridiculous:

      "Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say, my own personal feeling is that the chances of life on this planet are 100 percent," said Steven Vogt

      That "ubiquity and propensity" is found here on earth - we know of no other place where life has arisen - and so Vogt is begging the question of how likely it is for life to spontaneously arise on a planet where conditions are favorable for it, all within the 13 billion years the universe has lasted.

      We simply have no explanation even of how life arose on earth spontaneously, hence have no idea of how likely or unlikely such an event is. Worse yet, no one has come up with a detailed scenario of how it COULD have happened, despite the best efforts of Miller and Orgel.

      Nobel Laureate Francis Crick and Leslie Orgel even proposed the hypothesis of directed panspermia, whereby life was seeded on earth by an alien intelligence sending prokaryotes on space missions far too long for the intelligent beings to make the trip. That intelligent species in turn might have arisen under conditions even more favorable than those of earth, and might have been built on a simpler plan involving RNA rather than proteins as the enzymes, making its origin a lot less problematic than ours.

      Vogt obviously is naively unaware of all the uncertainties involved. Given the actual conditions on Gliese 581 g in addition to the above considerations, I would say it is safe to conclude that the probability of life arising there is less than 1%.

      On the other hand, the question of whether life would flourish there if introduced is a totally different one. We could easily carry out a directed panspermia project of our own for this planet, sending probes carrying prokaryotes at one-tenth the speed of light. The technology for it was worked out long ago in Project Orion:a vehicle about the size of a Saturn V propelled by periodic explosions of hydrogen bombs. One intriguing fact: red dwarfs last far longer than our own sun will, so if humans are still around in several billion years when the sun starts to expand to swallow up the earth, this could be a haven for our species to live a trillion years before facing final extinction.

      November 24, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Alex

    "The chances for life are 100%, I have almost no doubt about it..." lol, so then its actually more like 80-90% or so, right? At any rate, the statement was made for the benefit of newspaper headlines... nobody is honestly pretending like that specific statement is a scientific fact. "83% chance of life on another planet" just doesn't sell. Are we alone in the universe? Probably not. Will we contact anyone else in our lifetimes? Probably not. The article and the scientific investigation is exciting nonetheless.

    November 8, 2010 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
  12. just n observer

    lol. i love watching everyone argue over their half truths.

    November 8, 2010 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Simply Jim

      Better than arguing over the half that's wrong.

      November 9, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Simply Jim

    They might ought to be glad we ain't closer.

    November 9, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Gwen

    OK, anyone who thinks we can get there within a single human's lifetime needs to consider the following:

    1. The fastest man made object every, the Helios II probe, reached a maximum speed of 252,792 kph
    2. A single light year is 9.4605284 × 10^12 kilometers

    By my calculation, that's roughly 37424160.6 hours per light year traveled. Or, 1559340.02 days. Or, 4272 years. Very roughly, it would take approx. 85 1/2 thousand years for the fastest object ever made by man to make this journey. Space is really, really, really big. And light travels really, really, really fast.

    Please correct my math if you see an error.

    November 9, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ralf the Dog

      And in the next 50 or 100 years, we might find a way to travel 186,863 miles per second. What we can do today is not what we can do 100 years from now.

      November 9, 2010 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gwen

      The problem isn't just one of technology, though. If we are discussing an unmanned mission, then, yes, technically we may be able to accomplish what you're talking about (speeds just a hair under the speed of light). Even then, it's not a foregone conclusion and I would argue that the odds are stacked heavily against us building an engine capable of those speeds within our lifetimes.

      If you want to send humans, though, you run into other problems. In addition to things like bone and muscle loss due to long-term exposure to 0g, (which can be overcome with things like artificial gravity, etc), you also have the nigh insurmountable problem of acceleration.

      There's an article on scientificamerican.com which outlines the problem.

      http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=star-wars-science-light-speed

      November 10, 2010 at 3:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Mr.X

      Infinite speed = infinite mass

      The moment we go light speed the whole universe will collapse on itself and then a really Big BANG will occur.

      November 19, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  15. the_dude

    Remeber these are UC professors who get paid a truckload of money to research insane and useless things. Of course they are going to say it supports life otherwise their 20-30 years of research has been a complete waste. Hey look we found a planet that is suitable for life....only problem is we cannot get there. Can I have some more research money to support my lifestyle now?

    November 9, 2010 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ralf the Dog

      The researchers you are talking about could make tons of money in the private sector. They choose to work very long hours for a small fraction of what they could make because they think the work they do is very important.

      They are correct.

      November 9, 2010 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
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