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. Siferm

    When we are capable of reaching that planet with our technological advances, we could manipulate an asteroid large enough to satellite around it and overtime it will transform into a moon like ours. Then we will built Large structures on the equator like pyramids to start jumpstart the gravity pull which will start the planet revolving. Then once that is achieved, we could manipulate the DNA of its habitats with resemblance of human-like characteristics (or monkeys from earth) which will eventually evolve with more human-like attributes. Then we can use them as slaves to mine the precious metals that are there.

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

    Venus is a rocky planet at about the same distance, but there’s a greenhouse effect.. How do they know for “100%” certain this doesn’t fall into that category?

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

      I would take that 100% with grain of salt.

      If the systems has no gas giants to clean up the debris, it would probably get hit by an asteroid every few centuries. That would really make life evolving unlikely. On earth, most of the radioactive elements are trapped in the core. With a different geological history, the surface could be too radioactive for life. There might be too little water to buffer temperature swings. The cost of real estate may be too high. Lacking a moon and tides, the primordial soup may never have concentrated enough for cells to form.

      September 30, 2010 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
  3. noneya

    had to put this on here bc of the # of comments and we cant have tht lolllllll(:)

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

    i love science, but only in liberal science is an unproven theory a 100% chance...
    i'm sure this will be like global warming...100% theory with not so 100% scientific evidence....

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

    Intelligent life is a whole 'nother ball game: N = N* fp ne fl fi fc fL (do some Googling to figure out what it means)

    September 30, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Awesome

    No rotation. Finally solar panel can be used efficiently somewhere.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  7. not arthurr

    did it occur to anyone that maybe arthurr is a troll?

    September 30, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  8. sp360

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

    September 30, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  9. ASTR100student

    ok so at 1,000,000 mph it woud take 120 Million years to get there. Can you say impossible?

    September 30, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • sp360

      obvious question astr,,,but just because we havent revealed the key for space travel, doesn't mean we will never do....

      September 30, 2010 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
  10. blue

    The quoted scientist was unprofessional to use the 100% figure, especially around the even more unprofessional sensationalist press.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • sp360

      come on ,leave him alone blue.he was probably overexcited by his finding....

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

      I'm a physicist, and I know how exciting new finds can be, but science professionals need to be aware that the press is often more concerned about a sensational story than accuracy. They will write down every word you say, and you will not be able to take it back if you later realize you were using poor judgment.

      September 30, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Larry

    JJ, the majority of scientific disciplines were pioneered byBible-believing, 6-day creationist who used their scientific pursuits to glorify the Creator as they acknowledged and observed His handiwork and power in all their discoveries.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • RT

      and then came a period known as the elightenment. It's time to realize that the certainty with which you probably deny thor and zeus can be applied to whichever magic being you believe in.

      September 30, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jim

    It is extremely unlkely that we are being visited by creatures from the newly discovered planet. There is no evidence, not a shred of physical evidence, of extraterrestrial advanced technology visiting Earth. None. "Eye witnesses" are often folled by their very own eyes. And photographs of frisbees and dinner plates don't count. We invented the flying saucer–not the "aliens".

    September 30, 2010 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Dale

    The UN is in the process of appointing a person to represent mankind during initial alien encounters (should a public "landing" take place). But Operation Blue Book was discontinued since, from over 12,000 reported sightings, zero were confirmed as extraterrestrial. Then, why the need for a UN Rep? Is there more to the story!?

    September 30, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • JF

      What I want to know is what is Malaysia doing with a space program.

      September 30, 2010 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jim

    The scientific method does not care what your political affiliation is.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Don in Nevada

    We are being desensitized for Disclosure. It doesn't really matter if there are aliens there or not. I think they are just trying to minimize the shock of seeing them land in Times Square. It would be the biggest event in history, next to the real story of our species history.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
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