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. Jose

    Very cool.

    November 14, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jcroentgen

    I saw Avitar twice; I beleve :-))

    November 14, 2010 at 11:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. John Que 3000

    Hopefully China will allow a US crew on their new interstellar space vehicles that use light as a energy source to travel.' Otherwise Wal Mart will rule the Universe

    November 15, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  4. timbo

    the images that we see if the new planet is 1000's of light years old, we dont even know if the planet still exits??

    November 15, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • LouisLogic

      You mean the images are 20 years old? lol

      November 20, 2010 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
  5. w

    Yeah, the claim of "100% chance" for life is absurd. A non-rotating planet would make liquid water pretty unlikely, depending on the geothermal characteristics of the planet. I think "some chance of life forming in liquid water at the 'dawn' and 'dusk' longitudes" is probably a fairer statement. It IS a very interesting find though.

    November 15, 2010 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Raven

    >Timbo the planet is 20 light years away so if it was there 20 years ago.
    and unless something destroyed it in the past 20 years, it's still there.

    But it will be a while before we can go check it out,
    our fastest rockets can't even go 1/3 lightspeed. if they could it would take 60 years to get there.

    I think way before we get that technology, WWIII will have wiped us out..... or The God that made the universe
    will come back, shake his finger at us and laugh at our arrogance.

    November 15, 2010 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
  7. robert

    Hum,well we should start heading there now, we can start screwing up the planet early

    November 16, 2010 at 4:48 am | Report abuse |
  8. Machina

    Now we able to build space vehicle's fuel stations between the path of earth and the moon or planets. So it can bring the water oxygen materials and machines to develop the new planet for human survival. By new innovation make impossible to be possible. This dynamic life always changing not static like a primitive book or dead stones.

    November 16, 2010 at 6:33 am | Report abuse |
  9. Chris

    Why do we think a planet has to have liquid water on it to sustain "life"? Oh because our tiny planet has water on it, and we're here, so that must be the formula? That's very close minded thinking, especially when there are how many billions of these planets most of which we'll never see even a distant view of the surface. Why would "aliens" have to be just like us? Aren't the odds in favor them actually being nothing like us. Being able to breath what we think of as toxic gases and sustaining themselves possibly on other elements besides hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen. Just a thought...but I know. that just sounds "crazy".

    November 16, 2010 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • WBloodworth

      Yes, Chris. That's a very valid point. There is a popular theory that life can be silicon-based as opposed to earthen life, which is obviously carbon-based. The criteria for sustenance of silicate life are nearly impossible to determine. Plus, it is of course possible for sentient life to be in a form of pure or nearly pure energy. That would only require that any energy lost to entropy got replaced in some fashion. The only reason beings on this planet "die naturally" is because DNA degrades from free radical damage to the strings. Pending this and extreme irreparable damage, all a life would need is an energy source to power organic function (a pure energy life would require energy for different, less concrete reasons).

      We can only, however, seek out that with which we are familiar. All theoretical avenues, like quantum travel, energy/silicate beings, dark matter, etc. are just that – theoretical. Until proof of something on which we can "hang our hat", so to speak, we can seek out planets with conditions similar to our own, as this is the only planet we CURRENTLY know can sustain life.

      November 19, 2010 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
  10. TimeToTry

    Maybe the time to try it before too late for us. If the other country do first then they will survive and own its spaces all planets also its resources and precious materials from universe.

    November 17, 2010 at 6:11 am | Report abuse |
  11. kellbell

    holy CRAP! i think it would be a worthy journey to make, because then we wouldn"t be wondering forever if it can sustain life or not....

    November 17, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  12. WBloodworth

    The beautiful thing about the possibility of a life-sustaining planet outside of our own is that it would be free from all the religious and political posturing to which even this post – a post about scientific discovery – has fallen victim.

    I will summarise the truth of your arguments: liberals and conservatives are both wrong, since neither can cooperate to any positive humanitarian end. The religious zealots are wrong for putting beliefs ahead of facts and a desire to please an unproven god in lieu of bettering the human condition.

    This is science. Science is the only thing that will save humanity from the mess it has created from its own misuse – and the wisdom of proper application is essential. Those with a financial, political or religious bent cannot be trusted to make such applications in a benevolent, equally human-friendly capacity. Dismount from your high horses, quiet yourselves for long enough to let the ignorant listen to the words of those who have something of tangible, lasting value to offer humanity.

    November 19, 2010 at 12:54 am | Report abuse |
  13. NextGeneration

    See human life cycle of birth and death only make waste and destroy this planet. What do human do for this universe to save to make better universe and human species? Human can improve the weak genes by biotechnology to save resources. Imagine if human can live without water and oxygen then all can live in space. If the body can make its own nutrition without waste or absorb all elements all required energy directly from sun heat and light also hard nutrition from earth then human can be more efficient to survive. These are the next human race the perfect immortal human.

    November 19, 2010 at 7:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Zaf

      All you need to do is modify our melanin making gene to synthesize chlorophyll then we can make our own food like plants.

      November 21, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. DJ Jarak

    I hate to rain on these scientist's parade, but they have no way of knowing for sure if this planet can support human life. I mean, they hardly know how our planet ticks and we live here now.

    November 20, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  15. NewNature

    It is about renewing this earth for better environment. Why is it hard? Because at the first the recycling job is the nature's job the function of nature. But now it becomes human's job. How do human recycle pollution waste corpse plastic cann garbage back to its nature? If not 100% then all of it need more places to be stored. The original place of metal and chemical elements are beneath the earth but now on earth. Seems now all have to recycle to reuse the same component and its elements. Or find the new space the new planet to live on.

    November 21, 2010 at 7:56 am | Report abuse |
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