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. John

    if we use proven scientific methods & require burden of proof in regards to facts based on sound applications of universal physics we draw the only conclusion possible with 100% absolute certainty "LIFE DOES NOT EXIST OUTSIDE OUR PLANET" We are floating aimlessly through the cosmos all alone. long term exploratory Manned space flight will never be possible due to Gamma rays from the neutron star located at the center of the universe, The planet we have is the only one we will ever get much less set foot on. Water is but a small derivative required for life to take root and propagate, It's presence does not prove life in any form especially absent the trillion other components necessary for life forms to exist.
    Although it is understandable for people to want to make peaceful contact with alien life forms from another planet so as not to feel all alone, the reality is the only possible solution for their primal needs is adopt a dog & feed it Gravy Train cause the aliens ain't there & most certainly not coming. THEY DO NOT EXIST.
    Your planet is yet another dud in this here Milky Way, be 110% certain

    September 30, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      This John is not that John.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nonimus

      That is not correct. We cannot state with any certainty what is on other worlds. The only thing we can state with 100% certainty is that at least one planet has life on it, which is not the same thing. Any other planets are still unknowns.

      September 30, 2010 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  2. carl deeds

    Cool just like in the movie Aliens!

    September 30, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  3. J.M. Pelland

    No, people, we cannot colonize this planet. We can't even really send a satellite to it. To put it into perspective, the planet is 20 light years away. Light travels at approximately 186,000 miles per second. That means when you shine your flashlight into the air, it takes that light only 1.3 seconds to reach the moon. If we calculate out, we find that in one year, light can travel 5,865,696,000,000 miles in one earth-year. That's almost 5.9 trillion miles in one year. That distance is referred to as a light year. This planet is 20 light years away, equating to 117,373,920,000,000 or 117 trillion miles. The author of the article rounds up, but let's be as accurate as possible because- let's face it- 3 trillion miles is still pretty huge.

    Now, the current space crafts orbit the earth at a speed of roughly 18,000 miles per hour. Although there could be crafts that travel faster than that through space because they're not being tugged by earth's orbit, we'll use that as a benchmark number. A craft traveling at 18,000 miles per hour would be able to traverse the distance between us and this new planet in......... 744,380 years and 182 days. That's enough time for apes to evolve into humans 3 times over again!

    It's very, very far away.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      The math ignores one very important thing, and that is that spacecraft orbiting Earth have a fixed speed, travel towards a star would be a constant acceleration to the halfway mark, followed by (if you intend to stop) a constant deceleration. We could put an ion engine on a robotic probe with a bunch of recording equipment and a powerful transmitter, the ion engine is constantly accelerating, it shoots right through the Gliese 581 system, and sends back to us anything it finds. Such a craft could move much faster then 18,000 mph, because it would be continually increasing speed.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      Try reading "Tau Zero" by Poul Anderson. The story starts by describing a mission to a planet about the same distance away as this one. The technology described doesn't exist but it is plausible (collecting energy along the way to drive the thrust). If things had gone according to plan, they would have arrived in about 50 years but it would have seemed like only a year or two to the people on the spaceship. I won't give away the plot twist, but IMHO this is one of the best sci-fi books ever written.

      September 30, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • True

      Your numbers are sound, but 18,000 miles per hour even with current tech is a very very X10 slow speed to travel. Gravity of the sun becomes so little ouside of our system increasing speed would be easy, the problem isnt speed. So your numbers in years are way off. But seeing it within a lifetime is still out of the question.

      September 30, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  4. JCX

    I am 100% certain that Dr. Vogt is overreacting

    This is likely a tidal locked planet and there is no direct evidence of water on it's surface.
    This could be another Venus – a blast-furnace pressure cooker under an opaque atmosphere, or it might not have any water at all, who knows?

    100% chance? Please, not even close.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  5. faboge

    I know, lets bring our violence and hatred to that one too. Its done wonders here on earth!

    September 30, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • freeman

      So what if the "life' is simple microbes? Do you support the rights of microbes over Humanity?
      Right or wrong, until we run into some other intelligent species, Humanity is the only game in town.
      So yeah, its pretty much ours to do with whatever we please.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anonymous

      Stay positive, you ray of sunshine you.

      October 1, 2010 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Gumbaasha

    is there Pee-Pee on this Gleezy planet?? in what form? liquid, solid or gaseous??

    September 30, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  7. sealchan

    Yeah the 100% is an overstatement...but maybe within the parameters that the team in question were using they made a 100% match to Earth-like conditions. Still there is no knowledge of atmospheric composition and anything more specific that would lead to a more substantial claim...

    20 years means if you were light it would take you 20 years to get there. I don't remember my special relativity well enough but time would pass at a different pace for someone on Earth with respect to the person who went to that planet at that speed. If the traveller returned the two people would be very different ages.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Doug

    How can you have a 100% "chance" of life? Either there is life or there isn't. If they said there is a 99.999% chance of life that would make more sense. Do they also claim to have a 100% "chance" of winning the lottery?

    September 30, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anonymous

      He means there is a 100% chance that we humans COULD survive in said planet. Learn to read.

      October 1, 2010 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Yikes

    If this has a dense atmosphere, the surface would most likely be un-liveable because of the heating difference between sides. The wind speeds that would occur between night & day sides (to equalize the temperature domains) would make Earth hurricanes look like summer breezes.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. mask2697

    Isnt anyone here mature enough to realize that this is a Big deal?!?!?, We may have extraterrestrial life thats possible to communicate with, and were watchin what this planet was only 20 years ago which is very short compared to most stars which we are watching from thousands of years ago

    September 30, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • freeman

      No one said *intelligent* life.
      But extraterrestrial life of any kind would be an amazing discovery.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  11. jj

    Where can this water be, if the planet doesn't rotate? It would evaporate from the 'blazing-hot' side, and be frozen on the other. There could be a temperate band, in between, where water and life might exist.
    Let's send the 'baggers there, to find out!

    September 30, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  12. The Fury

    Submitting a motion to name this planet 'Pandora'. All in favor?

    September 30, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  13. JohnnyJett and the Dirty Socks

    Let's go there, make it a totally green planet.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Danny Lesandrini

    John replied to my post above with ...
    When you say evolution doesn't work, you're saying creation works.

    I believe John hit the nail on the head. My view is that Evolution, including life arising out of non-living matter, must stand on its own. Either it's scientifically plausible or not. You can't say "Evolution is correct because I don’t' believe in creation" any more than one should say "Evolution is wrong because I do."

    September 30, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      I'm not agreeing with you, I was disagreeing with when you said
      "And don't throw the "religion" card at me. I didn't mention creation and I needn't. It's simple science. Either it works or it doesn't ... and life arising out of water simply doesn't."
      I get so tired of closeted anti-science Christians acting like they aren't religious and acting like they aren't Creationists, and claiming that science itself disproves evolution. No, we haven't personally witnessed the process *yet*, but there is a preponderance of scientific evidence in favor of it, and absolutely zero evidence in favor of an invisible all powerful being magicking the whole world and all life on it into existence.

      If you intend to replace evolution, you'd better have something better to replace it with than *nothing*.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  15. The Fury

    @jj

    The highest temperature on the planet is 10*F. I don't think that's considered "blazing-hot"

    September 30, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
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