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. Athena Exclamation

    Why is it everybody thinks life needs liquid water to survive? I am sure the universe has a lot of pleasant/unpleasant surprises for us.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott B

      Only because liquid water, at some point, is needed for all life we've discovered here. We can only base our knowledge on what we know. We may be surprised when we make more discoveries.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Matt

    I'm sure we'll eventually figure out a way to screw that one up too.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. mattko

    wait a tick...there is nothing mentioned in the bible about there being life elsewhere. what should i look to now?

    September 30, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wha

      How about a science book... Ever think of that??

      September 30, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Brian

    I think the point the researches were really making was that they found this planet pretty quick. Which means that for sure earth isn't a once in the universe event and could probably be very common, and that based on what we know about life that if it can exist somewhere it will. CNN left most of that out.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott B

      Yep, that's the real importance of this story that sadly CNN didn't focus on. If we can find a planet even similar to Earth just 20 light years from us, the chances of there being planets similar to Earth elsewhere in our galaxy are pretty good.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. 4L3X

    And I shall name this planet....Reach

    September 30, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mk

      Lol! That would suck. Imagine going through all the trouble to get there and have to face the aliens from Halo :/

      September 30, 2010 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
  6. malware

    this is a ridiculously poor written article...CNN needs to sign up Zane Verjee, the author for some college english courses.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Brett

    Fire off a radio message to it and hope for a reply in 50 years....

    September 30, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  8. gizzy

    If it was actually %100 chance of life they would be building a vessel to go there

    September 30, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. jeffort

    God is here!

    September 30, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Wha

    I wish we'd hurry up and invent FTL already.... 😦 I'm tired of the people on this one.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. 7777788888888

    gggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg unit

    September 30, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  12. 78

    nice one 77777778888

    September 30, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Javonte

    How can you say that there is a 100% chance of life being here? Just because it has earth elements a lot like our planet it doesn't mean there is life there.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  14. 7777788888888

    thanks 78

    September 30, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Lunytune

    Wait...What?

    September 30, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
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