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. jerry

    Im sorry matt but we probably wont travel there in our lifetime

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


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

    So........ if there happens to be a civilization up there...... do we teach those Gliesians Catholicism or Islam?

    Am i rockin the boat? Am I? Am I?

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

    "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."....that's funny!! 100% and almost no doubt doesn't mix. "almost no doubt" means not 100%.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • gge

      omg really?

      September 30, 2010 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mike

    Oh Look! Do you see it?
    Ah Yes!!
    There are illegal Mexican immigrants here already!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Viva La Loca!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 30, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Brooklyn

    If we venture to this planet, and there happens to be a civilization there, they'll probably complain about how we're stealing jobs from the hard-working Gliesians.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mark

    The term "100% chance" makes no sense to me at all. I am 100% sure there is a CHANCE the market will go up tomorrow.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • gge

      why does everyone focus on the 100% crap, maybe the guy was just caught up in the moment, besides, it is ridiculous to assume that everything is certain. he may be exaggerating a bit, so what? everyone does it.

      September 30, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
  8. adrian

    Mike that is not funny. If the Mexicans are there before us, then that would not make them illegals, that would make anyone else who enters the atmosphere illegals.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  9. HiDsrtGrl

    Cool Beans! 🙂

    September 30, 2010 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
  10. thunder

    well i belive that this planet might be able to substain human life but i still dont get how one side is blazing hot and the other side is freezing cold (what i means is how can it still contain water)

    September 30, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • blue

      It's in the right zone for liquid water to exist, but only a spectral analysis of the planet's atmosphere would say for certain what's actually there.

      September 30, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Sam K

    Alright humanity we have a grave question before us; do we become the "good" guys or the "bad" guys in our future intersteller conflict. I recommend "bad" guys because, quite frankly" they're awesome. We'll wear black capes and construct a massive fear inspiring fleet of warships. We'll look down our noses at lesser species and demand tribute. I also suggest we get started on some kind of planatary "death ray" immeditely, just as a precaution of course (hand wringing ensues). Any other suggestions?

    September 30, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • gge

      What if Arachnids live on this planet? we should call it Klandathu and send 100,000 mobile infantry guys and get them killed in the first hour..... ohh snap, they might send a bug meteorite and blow Buenas Aires from the face of the Earth!

      September 30, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam K

      Oh Snap! We should make a movie about that!

      September 30, 2010 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • gge

      omg omg you absolutely right! i got more ideas! would you like to know more?

      September 30, 2010 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  12. what

    send it a message using radio waves

    September 30, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
  13. PL

    All very good stuff. I don't understand how they know that the planet always has the same side to their sun. Mass and gravity I get sufficiently not to care further than my present understanding.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  14. The artist formerly known as DUH anyone getting this at all, the synchronicity between this announcement today, and the story from Tuesday where ex-military officers came forward and said that the government has been lying to us for years about the existence of UFOs and extraterrestrials? Do you really think these two announcements are not connected? if so, you aren't paying attention. Of course this announcement about a planet with "a 100% chance" for life came today.... the powers that be have more than likely been in a tailspin since Tuesday's story hit the media. It's time to start gradually fessing up, and they know it. I'm no alien nut or conspiracy theorist, but I do study media trends and this is all happening for a reason. And has anyone wondered how they can state that they know the temperature there, with such confidence? When we are so incredibly far away? I guarentee they discovered this planet quite a while ago. Who knows how long they have sat on this? Who knows how they got their info about temperature and gravity and rotation...and who gave them this info. for real? (insert shocked gasp here...) We all need to start paying very close attention. The leaks are beginning. Knowledge is being doled out to us bit by bit by bit. The vatican aknowledging possibility of aliens, the military officers coming forward, now this... not to mention some ridiculous new show about aliens among us called "The Event." It's all tied together, people. Believe me. TIme to pop the popcorn and pull up your lawnchairs. Things are about to get good. 🙂

    September 30, 2010 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam K

      That must be a sad, anticipatory world you live in...

      September 30, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • gge

      you should write a book,

      September 30, 2010 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  15. thunder

    can anybody tell me how the planet could still substain water

    September 30, 2010 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
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