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. Neptune

    What a joke. "100% chance of life" but there only "could" be liquid water on the surface?

    September 30, 2010 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dolfan99

    The fact that the planet has been described as having a hot side and a cold side only proves that this story was planted by McDonalds in a clever marketing campaign designed to coincide with them bringing back the McDLT. See the commercial here –

    September 30, 2010 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ken

    What kind of scientist says he is 100% sure without any proof. Yes he can really really really believe there is life on it, but he can not be 100% sure. I guess Im just being an ass.

    September 30, 2010 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Byron

    What the hell? Might have water but definitely has life? One side is blazing hot and the other super cold but average temp is 10 degrees? It could be molten on one side and super super cold on the other. Geez Louise!

    September 30, 2010 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Powers

    Can we get a probe going in that direction and what would its velocity be and time to planet? (then 20 years to send a signal back, right)

    On the religion side I can see Evangelicals following this pattern. Today, deny there is life of any kind elsewhere in the universe. Tomorrow, when microbes are found on Mars or Gliese or somewhere else then say that its not intelligent or human so still the case that the story only involves us on this planet. Later, when we find more interesting creatures the story will be that they are heathen and should be converted, even though they have their own religions in place. The missionary mindset will trump the wonder of life forming on another planet!

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

      I agree, religion will just change their claims to fit the facts just like they did when they could no longer deny that the Earth revolves around the sun.

      September 30, 2010 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bryan

    I hope new planet have human there, if so then I hope its perfect laws, money, and people share each other in new planet...If it did, I hope this new planet make USA and World look bad themselves!

    September 30, 2010 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Laydin

    RT science is not a joke and without science u prob wouldnt b here ok? but i love science when im old i am going to b a scientist and prove to all the people tht science is not a joke!

    September 30, 2010 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • RT

      Laydin, you missed the point of my post. You might want to reread it and the post that I was referring to. I am biologist.

      September 30, 2010 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jawz

    " I have almost no doubt about it" that is not 100%

    September 30, 2010 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
  9. barry

    Chance of life 100%. For a scientist to say that is stupid. There may be life there, maybe not. Chance of life %???what the hell does that mean, and it cannot be proven in our life time, unless the life contacts us by some means. I hope there is life out there, but scientist can say stupid things sometimes. Then again, not as stupid as some religious nuts.

    September 30, 2010 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cliff Vegas

      Hey Barry... The chance for any state is always 100%. So, if you don't mind, I'll take his stupid guesses over your dead certainty any day of the week.

      September 30, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
  10. daithi mac curtáin

    I'm afraid they will have to come to us first , it's just amazing to think the vastness of space it is beyond our comprehension , only the mind of GOD can comprehend the vastness of time and space .

    September 30, 2010 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Unknown

    i dont think it has any life because u can survive there but maybe theres no life and i wont trust anyone until i see a picture of actual creatures there

    September 30, 2010 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Mars

    Guys Aliens are not real, and com on, its millions of miles away, you dont know if theres life!

    September 30, 2010 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  13. lazer007

    AVATAR..i'm comming home 😉

    September 30, 2010 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Chris

    Here's a conspiracy theory for ya: We began transmitting detectable transmissions during the late 1930's when Hitler broadcast the Berlin Olympics. The Gliese 581 star system is 20 light years away, so the signal arrived at 581g in the late 1950's. yada yada yada..Roswell, New Mexico. could happen! 😉

    September 30, 2010 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Kenny

    If we humans, one day inhabit this pretty Gisele planet, that mean we'd have to "re-write" the whole Bible starting with Genesis, let's see; how about "God said let there be light and there is light, and let there be night....but's only darkness, but not quite night". Does that mean all these decades of research, we've been trying to find a way to abandon God? Who are we kidding here?

    September 30, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kenny

      Sorry I meant to spell Gliese and not Gisele.

      September 30, 2010 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • matt

      That is why in Buddhism, there are many world systems. Unlike the biblical human centric myths of creation. The Buddha said that time and perception may be different in each world system. One blink of an eye could be a thousand years under certain conditions and vice versa. There is no creator, only perpetual creation and destruction, wherein even all gods must die.

      September 30, 2010 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • olly

      err, its because the bibles wrong.

      September 30, 2010 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
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