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. pennyinthewell

    Mr. Positive, you are aptly named.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Shannon

    Just goes to show that "science" is as much of a religion as any now. "100% chance"? This guy is a complete idiot. Life was created not formed by accident. Any competent scientist knows that life doesn't happen by accident otherwise they would have been able to produce life by now out of thin air. Idiots. lol

    September 30, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • rockyrooster

      I 155% agree with you.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • stu

      haha, you're a dope. Just because we haven't done it yet doesn't mean it can't or won't be done. Silly jeebus freaks.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  3. justmeanddog

    Ok, here is my thought. We "jack up" one side of the LHC and attach a ramp to it. We then construct a ship and "Gravitationally couple" it to the particle being accelerating in the tube. When we reach near .99c we "decouple" at just the right moment and head off towards this planet. The only "real" obstacle I see with this is the "getting back" part.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Typical Human

    Yaaaaayyyy! Now let's kill them!
    Let's hope we both stay far, far away from each other, FOREVER!

    September 30, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. hank

    I doubt if Dr. Steven Vogt said that. Extremely irresponsible for a Doctorate-level scholar. Just as irresponsible for CNN to report it under such a sensationistic headline.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  6. cavemanstyle

    I think it's more plausible to bend space at two points and jump through a wormhold than it is to travel at the speed of light to be honest. It just seems like a more subtle way to travel. Generating extremely high amounts of energy to get an object going that fast seem like an inefficient way to do it. I would rather generate a large amount of energy to open a wormhole, but here's the problem. The wormhole needs two points of reference for the technology to work. You would have to send out a "gate" so to speak to the location you want to travel too first, before you could open the passage to it. You cannot open a wormhole in space, without a point of reference... I'm almost certain of it. Otherwise, you could end up walking through the gate, and ending up in the middle of a star.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • justmeanddog

      The biggest problem with "wormholes" is their association with "blackholes" and when you jump into a blackhole you tend to be torn apart. Now if you can solve the "torn apart" part I might be tempted to buy a ticket.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Wha

    How can life exist if this is all just my dream......

    September 30, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Will

    arturr should really tale a physics class

    September 30, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  9. rockyrooster

    Speculation at best that this planet has life or supports it. We are not that advanced to tell that much from a telescope image that does not even actually show us a picture of the planet. Hopefully one day we will be able to take pictures of these far away planets and have a very clear answer of whether life exists there or not, until that happens, it is not fact and only speculation at best.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  10. stu

    On which day did God create life on this planet again? I don't recall that part in the bible... HAHA.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  11. cavemanstyle

    Here's another method of super fast travel. Space is bendable, as you can see from gravitational lensing. Instead of trying to generate a huge amount of energy to open one huge wormhole, you can generate enough gravitation in one direction of space, to "pull" space toward you, and then the ship will hold on to that part, then release the gravitational lens, and leave the ship in it's new position say.. 1 astronomical unit away in the direction you wanted to go. Then, instantly once again another jump is made, and another until your destination is reached, 1 AU at a time, and you would also have more control over the direction of the ship. The problem is, if you're generating that much gravity, you're going to need to have something protecting the ship from other matter.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • 1jimmyhoffa


      September 30, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • rockyrooster

      Folks I believe we are stuck on Earth for quite some time to come, unless Jesus comes back first. Death and the resurrection is the only way out of here.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • justmeanddog

      I thought of getting a patent for a similar form of propulsion once. Mine was based on creating an infinite Gravitational source immediately in front of the ship in the direction you would want to travel. You would have to control the Force of the Gravitational pull so you could gradually "dial" your way up to the speed you required. But that should not be that hard to do.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • cavemanstyle

      Philisophically, I have also solved the egg before the chicken riddle. First, you have to understand, that black holes are essential in the universe, and what they really are, are recycling generators. They mince up matter in the universe to it's primordial state. Then those molecules once again form the basic elements of the universe, hydrogen, gamma rays, xrays, etc.. Then, those elements begin again to form sold planets and again life. So, what you have here, is the egg, before the chicken. The only problem is, we don't know what egg hatched the first black hole... and therein lies the rest of the riddle I can't figure out.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  12. dwighthuth

    Before anyone starts trying to start a conspiracy over the new find just like the conspiracies about the Moon landing being faked listen to the data that is being presented before you without trying to interpret it for yourself.

    The planet has a 100% chance of sustaining life or has life on it. This means that humanity now has a viable goal in which to set up a dedicated space program towards. Before it was the Moon and Mars but no one was ever really interested in going to the Moon or Mars because of the cost involved with building facilities to house humans in an atmosphere comparable to Earth. The training to use these systems would also take alot of money as well.

    But Gliese 581g does not. The only money that would be needed would be that of building a ship that would be able to keep people in stasis for the journey. Stasis in the laymans terms would be like being in a coma where your body is controlled by a machine that can regulate the correct amout of life forces necessary to keep the body functioning but at the bare minimum. Once the sleeper ship had arrived at Gliese 581g the sleeper units would trigger a synaptic response in the brain that would tell the brain to start taking over the life force processes where the machine would slowely discontinue providing the brain pwoer to keep the body alive. In sci-fi the term is called hybernation sleep and is relatively the same process that certain animals like Bears use during the winter time to decrease their metabolism which puts them in a deep sleep for most of the winter. The find of Gliese 581g is the best find for humanity since caveman first picked up the spear and killed an animal with it for food. Gliese 581g will provide humanity with the breathing room that humanity needs to grow and flourish. Just because the planet is a long way away does not mean that we should not set it as goal to reach for. Another fact is taht since Gliese 581g has been discovered there are now two planets in the Universe that can sustain life or have life on them. That makes the percentage of life existing elsewhere in the Universe at 100% which means that there WILL be millions of similar planets populating the Universe.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • rockyrooster


      September 30, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  13. 1jimmyhoffa


    September 30, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  14. ioniczero

    Omg, to the people talking about going there... Are you kidding? It's 20 light years away. We don't have the technology to even get close to it. Sure we might if we stopped playing with our nuclear toys here on this planet, but I don't exactly see that happening any time soon. Point being, we won't see it any time within our own life time. Wanna do something about it? Let's see you invent light speed travel that doesn't tear physical matter apart in to particles. Even then, would you really be willing to give up 20 years of your life getting there?

    September 30, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • oda155

      ...ssshhhh... let them go...

      September 30, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  15. guest

    Seems a bit early to be saying that there is a certain percentage that the planet has life on it to me.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dolman

      I wasn't going to mention that, but yes, the Star Trek uvrneise is apparently the result of a non-theistic form of intelligent design ... to be fair, though, the psuedo-evolutionary history given barely makes sense, and probably has nothing to do with the actual uvrneise's history of local, planet-b... I wasn't going to mention that, but yes, the Star Trek uvrneise is apparently the result of a non-theistic form of intelligent design to be fair, though, the psuedo-evolutionary history given barely makes sense, and probably has nothing to do with the actual uvrneise's history of local, planet-bound evolution, which Vogt's own theses are based within.

      July 14, 2012 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
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