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. flakey busicuts

    sounds like a buncha bs to me
    whos ganna travel for 20 years any way...2012 also

    September 30, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  2. King Soloman

    NOO we dont want illegal aliens here on our planet. Say no to E.T. Immagration

    September 30, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Sam K

    We're 100% sure this planet contains life and here's our evidence; speculation about 2 almost intelligable "dots" placed upon a hypothesis about how our own system (removed from our subject system by 20 light years) MIGHT work smathered with a helping of cosmic guesswork all dependent on the accuracy of tons of data we have no means to verify. Science gets more religious every day.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  4. ChrisN

    @arthurr I don't think you read the article right, it says the size is three times earth's, and only that the gravity was similar.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ecarlson

    The motions of the parent star, as measured by Doppler shift, tells us the mass, distance, and period of the planet's orbit. Theory says its a rocky planet at that distance, like Earth, which allows us to estimate the density and hence get its radius (but it's only an estimate). Theory says a planet this close to its parent star should be phase locked, so it always points the same side towards the star, but there's no way they can actually observe this. Much of the rest of this article is just speculation.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. xstonuge

    Looks like the artist rendition put the icy side in the sun and the dark but growing side in the dark, was he blind?

    September 30, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. kobe


    September 30, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Robert W.

    9.8 Gliese 581g years is 1 earth year? Dog, I would be 500 Gliese 581g years old.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  9. your mother

    i need you home by 3 oclock

    September 30, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  10. matt

    Im pretty excited about this new planet. Chances are with the technology we have toaday there is a great chance we can travel and occupy this planet within 5 years.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      say what?

      September 30, 2010 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bowie said 5 years

      say "say what?"

      September 30, 2010 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
  11. luke skywalker

    im my own father b!!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 30, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  12. adrian

    Im wondering. Exactly how long would it take a space ship to get to this new earth? If they left today on Sept 30th 2010. When would the spaceship arrive?

    September 30, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • blue

      It would take centuries with today's technology. Future humans with better technology would catch up to the spacecraft before it arrived.

      September 30, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  13. John

    3 oclock?! But I'm @ 581g & your in LA!

    September 30, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  14. sp360

    good news.i want a scientist to tell US GOVERMENT that there is a huge reserve of oil. u know what happens next.......

    September 30, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. blue

    If the planet is tidally locked, that doesn't necessarily mean life can't arise. A thick atmosphere or ocean could transfer heat around the planet well enough to keep temperatures livable.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
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