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. positive pancakes

    ohmigod!!! this is amazing!

    September 30, 2010 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
  2. MassiveMarbles

    HIGH SCHOOL SCIENCE TEACHER JOB WANTED. Former job: the scientist who stated with 100% certainty of something trillions of light years away.

    September 30, 2010 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • MassiveMarbles

      I'm 100% certain that this will be my last comment. ummm unless maybe I see something I need to respond to...but...if you ask ME, this scientist can't be 100% certain that he'll have a job next week!

      September 30, 2010 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Austin

    I just heard that Donald Trump just bought the entire planet for 2.54 million......He is a genius!!

    September 30, 2010 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse |
  4. MedianD

    This is great but in my view no true scientist says 100%.

    September 30, 2010 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ted

    ....Was' Not too Long Ago...that the "Experts" said the Earth was FLAT...matter of could be put to death for disagreeing......I think the odds of this "planet" being about the same as the Earth being FLAT.........

    September 30, 2010 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
  6. mykee

    Hey; put me on the next Shuttle; i will go ASAP to check it out;;; it would be Better than living here right now!

    September 30, 2010 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
  7. chieatfetus

    I'll go! I'd love to leave this God-forbidden planet that's just being trashed by all the rich & dumb people.

    September 30, 2010 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • yo

      dude, you sound like a frickin teacher.

      September 30, 2010 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
  8. RayRay

    I'm glad about the discovery and I think it's important. I do, however, think it's ridiculous to state 100% chance of life. I was curious is Mars, for example, was considered to be in the habitable zone .. and it is! In fact, it first encompassed the orbits of Venus through Mars, but now have been expanded out to the orbit of Saturn. Wouldn't there have been 100% chance of finding life in these places as well? They should also specifiy if they are talking about an environment suitable for human life, and simply an environment capable of supporting life of any kind.

    September 30, 2010 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
  9. T-2000

    1.21 Jigowats!

    September 30, 2010 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kim Jong-Il

      I am 1.21 Gigalo Watts.

      September 30, 2010 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. bek

    @ S ..."Wish these intelligent people would dedicate their time to more important stuff like finding cures for diseases...
    September 30, 2010 at 4:42 pm"

    Keep in mind that we have computers and calculators etc. in large part due to the enormous investment in the Race to Space, some time ago.

    September 30, 2010 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Will

    In way I am glad that humanitiy has come so far but in a way we shall all be scared because GOD IS COMING.......!

    September 30, 2010 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ed Sr

    The CNN comment already said that..............that means that CNN is also an idiot...............

    September 30, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jimbo

    To say there's a 100% chance at life there is just bad science. He should have said "an exceedingly good chance" or a 99.9% chance. There is never a 100% chance of anything in science.

    September 30, 2010 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Will

    In way I am glad that humanitiy has come so far but in a way we shall all be scared because GOD IS COMING.......!

    Lets focus on becoming better humans, lets focus on diseases and ways to fix EARTH. Fix our problems in order to focus on other things. I wish I would have control of where my tax money goes.

    September 30, 2010 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
  15. godtruth

    yep, but can they back it up?

    September 30, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
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