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. Awaal Oastad

    Mexicans today are your forefathers yesterday. Don't you feel ashamed when you have this racial bigotry in your heart and in your mind? You'd be nowhere if your forefathers did not kill the native Indians and sucked their blood to settle in this country tat was originally part of Mexico and make you up here as Americans. Shame on you.

    September 30, 2010 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Zorthak the Mighty

    Don't you Earthlings even *think* about coming to our planet and taking jobs from us hard-working Gliesians!

    September 30, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ctown

    That planet had 99 years to enjoy the 1980's. Right now I would be 268 years old on Gliese 581g

    September 30, 2010 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Louie

    It's a huge find. We barely have studied a minute fraction of the stars and already we have come across a "stable" solar system with a planet in the Goldilocks Zone. This alone boosts the odds of finding further solar systems of the same nature. So what if this planet does not posses intelligent life. Even if this planet has nothing but slugs, it's proof that life exists elsewhere and, with it, intelligent life as well. I think the one set of people who should be afraid are all of the religious freaks who spout that only life exists on Earth.

    September 30, 2010 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |

    What if they found human race in there, they just speak different languages like here on earth eh?

    September 30, 2010 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Trevor

    I Swear to god this is where we all die

    September 30, 2010 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  7. carlos

    They should call the planet pandora...

    September 30, 2010 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • gge

      I vote Klandathu

      September 30, 2010 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  8. JFairweather

    S – I am not certain how many astronomers or astrophysicists would be of much use in curing diseases.

    September 30, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. MIke

    I can tell by the authors mass that he is retarded.

    September 30, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Dave

    I love the language of this article:

    "I have ALMOST no doubt about it"
    "It COULD have liquid water on the surface"

    Sounds like a 100% change to me! =P

    September 30, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mike

    Alright people don't bring god into this everyone know the bible is full of crap. the earth is not 6000 years old its about 4.5 billion (fact) the earth is not flat and orbits the sun not the other way around. (fact) and yes i realize that christens try to forget that was in the bible but it was. so ether god strait up lied to us or hes not real. And don't even get me started about Evolution.

    September 30, 2010 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
  12. duke

    Why do we always think if a planet has water it may have life? Why don't we go outside the box and think there can be some life forms that can exist without water. Have we conclusively proved that water is essential for life? Our moon may have living things but just haven't detected yet. Ever thought about that?

    September 30, 2010 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
  13. blue

    Let's establish ourselves in the solar system first before we worry about getting to other star systems. One small step at a time...

    September 30, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  14. some_guy

    Could this be the "new Heaven and new Earth" prophesied in the Bible? Just a thought.....

    September 30, 2010 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • RT

      Of course not! The bible is fiction.

      September 30, 2010 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • gge

      Youre absolutely right! we should send all the religious nuts there to their promisd land!

      September 30, 2010 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mel

    If there is extraterrestrial life out there, then how come we don't get to hear their radio and tv transmissions (ours are reaching every planet that's a hundred light-years from us)? Could it be that they haven't reached that technological stage yet, or that they do not exist?

    September 30, 2010 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • blue

      They may no longer use radio waves to communicate, or the signals are too diffuse an weak to be detected amidst the cosmic background radiation.

      September 30, 2010 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • gge

      America doesnt use radiowaves as much as we did 10 years ago, old technology is old XD

      September 30, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
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