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. Beck

    Holy crap! The Cylon homeworld!!

    September 30, 2010 at 10:17 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Gio

    Why dont we try to communicate with some sort of sound wave.

    September 30, 2010 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • qiox

      Gio: Sound wave? In space?

      September 30, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Science Guy

      dude u can't send sound waves into space there's no air to transmit those sound waves. thats y in space if u take off ur helmet and start screaming no one will hear u

      October 2, 2010 at 8:41 am | Report abuse |
  3. Daniel

    wouldn't it be ironic if planet Gliese 581g was full of ignorant beings, just like us, who have destroyed their own planet and now are looking to the solar system for emergency habitats and in the distance they see a planet close to a sun, that has water and a similar gravity and 100% chance to support life? LMFAO

    September 30, 2010 at 10:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • tim

      Sounds like a movie plot. Sorta.

      September 30, 2010 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
  4. jul

    They (the govt/NWO) are just priming us for an announcement in the near future. Our govt has known about intelligent life outside our galaxy forever. It is media manipulation.

    September 30, 2010 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • qiox

      jul: Hopefully you will one day learn the difference between a galaxy and a solar system.

      September 30, 2010 at 10:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robin Bray

      Yes, we have been watching you for years. We see you when you're sleeping, we see you when you're awake.

      September 30, 2010 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |
  5. i'm a gray

    aliens are fake

    September 30, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yes Finally

      This is old news. In 2007 a discovery was made in Chili. Anyway now that we know that this a super Earth 3x's our size... that means the beings on planet Gliese are three times our size.....

      September 30, 2010 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Robin Bray

    I'm going for 100% chance of no life. Can I have a grant now? Mars sits in a sweeter zone than this planet. And we could say a 100% chance until we turn the whole planet inside out before being proven wrong. Not good science folks.

    September 30, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yes Finally

      Sorry but life makes life and there is a 100% chance of life . LIFE makes LIFE on all living planets... Now chew on that!

      September 30, 2010 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Confused

      "LIFE makes LIFE on all living planets..."???

      So someone making an assumption about something that is 20 light years away in regards to the possibility of water (which incidentally, is not alive) means that it is a living planet and that it therefore has life making other life and we should then chew on it? What scientific method is that?


      October 27, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • matt

      last time i checked, Mars is not in the Goldilocks zone...water freezes on Mars sir. Your assumption that there is 100% of NO LIFE in this planet is as absurd as the scientists's assumption that there is 100% life on it. Nobody knows – period.

      They should rather say, "There is 100% POTENTIAL for life.", but not 100% actual life – since they will never know.

      October 28, 2010 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack

      very good answer, we have limited ability to see what underwear we are going to wear tomorrow, think about something 20 light years away..haha

      October 28, 2010 at 10:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Professor1

      Well, 100 % chance of anything is a pretty bold statement. As in, statisticians are 'bet hedgers' and will usually reserve the 100% bit for stuff that has already been proven (or has happened). Like, I'm 99.999999999% sure that the Sun is going to rise in several hours, but I will not be 100% sure until it has. I sort of doubt though that these astronomers have anything like evidence adding up to 99% let alone 100%.Ingredients, yes. Environment, yes. Proof– not quite. Habeas corpus.

      October 28, 2010 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      to those of you who have said we should not concern ourselves with this, because we will never get there anyways... well your right. We will never get there, as long as we dont try, or write it off. I think I would rather try.

      October 29, 2010 at 12:08 am | Report abuse |
  7. 21

    Since you say that the life on Gliese would need to adapt to its surroundings, and there is water, isn't there also a chance that something will to survive off of it? I'm sure there's a chance (genetic "trial and error" maybe). And there wasn't any part of the article that references similar looking life forms. The author meant that the conditions for life were similar to Earth. Just putting it out there.

    September 30, 2010 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. John G

    It appears they found Utopia. Time to ship all the liberal / socialists to their new home.

    September 30, 2010 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Spoken like a true American. NOT!

      October 18, 2010 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Will S

      If you think it is Utopia, why don't you and your Nazi buds head there and leave the Earth to the nice people.

      October 26, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • johann1965

      Oh...just call everyone who doesn't think like you do a communist and call it done. McCarthy disciple.

      October 26, 2010 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pegusis

      You can send all the Politicians there, you can take their army's and war machines with them. This will include both sides.

      All regular joe's – men, women and children can stay here, and I don't care what their beliefs are, just don't push it on others. And we all lived happily ever after. Thank you.

      October 26, 2010 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • orbiter100

      Another Flintstone...

      October 26, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • FlyingFish

      John G = D Bag

      October 26, 2010 at 10:11 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jonathan

    "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."

    If you are 100% than what is with the "ALMOST no doubt about it". Ridiculous. You are only 100% when you actually find life. Interesting story, but ridiculous claim.

    September 30, 2010 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • tin

      That's what I was thinking. This guy may not have taken statistics or probability...

      October 23, 2010 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Will S

      Or possibly he's simplifying it for the layperson.

      October 26, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • John in Nebraska

      I hate it when "News" people don't understand statistics or science. There is a 100% probability that life COULD survive there. Please stop the mis-quotes CNN.

      October 28, 2010 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
  10. bumble

    I think it is spectacular. But we will never know for sure as the planet is many light years away. By the time we got there it may have already been dead for some time.

    September 30, 2010 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
  11. agent

    They found PANDORA?!!

    September 30, 2010 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jo123nn

    this is all obama fault.

    September 30, 2010 at 10:44 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bu

    so if you are a passenmger on this 20 lightyear 'flight' to the plaent...How long does it feel like to you, as you go from Earth to Gliese 581g ?...relativity always gets me.

    September 30, 2010 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rory

      it would be almost instant to the person travelling

      September 30, 2010 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Smart Guy

      Unless you want to break down Einstein's equations, then simply put, it won't be instantaneous but it will seem significantly "shorter" as the traveler if you were to compare the observer on Earth to the traveler.

      October 21, 2010 at 6:18 am | Report abuse |
    • E

      the Trip would seem like 20 years to you (the passenger). However the trip would seem to take many more years for an outside observer since it is traveling at light speed. If we sent a lightspeed ship now the 20 years older astronuats would be contacting an Earth well beyond our timeframe.

      October 25, 2010 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • guest

      hhhmmm...maybe I can use this to win Mega Millions?

      October 27, 2010 at 3:13 am | Report abuse |
    • A. Nony

      The time it would take to travel to this planet from Earth depends on what the average rate of travel of the vessel is. Say it travels 1/100th the speed of light; That means it will take the craft 2,000 years to reach Gliese 581g. Light-speed travel is practically unattainable with current human technology, and very unlikely to be achieved before the species is extinct.

      HOWEVER, remember it takes 20 years for light to travel directly between the planets. Consider that (as per the illustration provided) Gliese 581 is a Red Giant, further in its life than our Sun. By this comparison, our current planet has more time left on the clock, anyway. Still, say we gain the ability and retain the desire to put human feet on Gliese 581g. At that point, the planet may very well have been eradicated 16 years prior. Four years later, when we realize it, the craft would certainly be out of communication range, and would be hurling towards nothing.

      Ultimately, we should just keep an eye on it. Nothing more until we can put a living human on the planet. At the very least, that person could light a fire on the dark side that our telescopes can see.

      October 28, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  14. JESUS

    If life exists on this planet and it is proven, what would happen? would chaos break out here on earth? all religious nuts would be wrong. every religion is interpretation. god may have created life, but the DEVIL created religion. what if god wants us to life moral lives, religion pays no part in if you go to heaven or hell, but how to treat others and what you make of your life depends on what happens to you after this life. The actual test in this life is to make the world better somehow, not how closely you follow some dumb religion. Religion is good in some cases because it helps people get through terrible situations in their life and gives people a reason to live and gives them hope. I will burn in hell for the rest of my life if i dont follow the "correct" religion? yea right. Religion is currently killing our world, and saving it at the same time. Too bad there just so many people in this world who make it terrible. ALL RELIGIONS ARE WRONG. everyone is wrong. Live your life, try to make the world better, do something with the life you were given.........

    September 30, 2010 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nirakar

      Great point!

      September 30, 2010 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Science Guy

      wow calm down buddy i don't believe in god but not all religions are completely wrong. im not saying all of them are right, but some have good points. for instance Sikhism (a religion that started in india) states that "their are thousands upon thousands of "earths" in the sky and that there are thousands more on those earths that have gods creations" and this was written down hundreds of years before the invention of the telescope

      October 1, 2010 at 9:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Will S

      Religion will adapt as it always has. Remember that little episode known as Reformation?

      October 26, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Walker

      Not really seeing how life on another planet conflicts with most religions... and how do you know all religions are wrong? you don't, just like no one can really know for sure their religion is right.

      October 26, 2010 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zb

      Islam actually refers to the idea of God creating the "worlds"

      October 26, 2010 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • GOD

      That's a great theory, son... if you were in my shoes, you'd know better.

      October 27, 2010 at 3:18 am | Report abuse |
    • 4tuneagent

      There are some great points you have there. This is the collective mind at work and everyone has something to add. Its good to point out the negative but all progressive thought should be positive in intent. We still have to learn how to sustain life and resources on this planet without poisoning it.

      October 27, 2010 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric2007

      They shouldn't have said 100% life on this planet... although it's likely there will be life on any planet that has water and is within a certain temperature range. My feeling is there are tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of planets out there with life. It's simply mathematics... out of a couple hundred planets WE know of... there are at least a couple with water. Therefore, if you think about BILLIONS of stars... and many of those have planets... you'd have to be ignorant to think life doesn't exist elsewhere. And of all those planets, I'm more than sure some of them have creatures with the intelligence of ours... and have made up 'great sky people' that created and are responsible for everything. The number I'd love to know is... how many of these planets have HAD intelligent life on them in the past? When you think about it... the universe is many billions of years old... I think the last estimate I saw was 13 billion years. In all those years, there could have been millions upon millions of earth-like planets full of life just like here. Man on Earth has been here a mere several thousand years... and early life a couple hundreds of million. In the end, we are just like bees in a nest, thinking we are the only hive around. Except the difference is, we will likely never come into contact with another hive because of the shear time and distance it would take to reach them... but it is fun just thinking about the possibilities. If I could time travel... I'd LOVE to know how long 'man' lasts on Earth... cause it probably isn't for more than 50,000 years. And IF man lasted that long... I'd be interesting to see what effects we would have on Earth that far down the road. Are we talking going from 6 billion to 50 billion population? All the fossil fuels are going to be stripped away within the next couple hundreds of years... what then? It's going to be a bumpy ride.

      October 29, 2010 at 5:00 am | Report abuse |
  15. smangold4

    I'm glad in this day and age it takes scientists to figure out that a planet 20 light years away would take 20 years to travel to if you're going the speed of light.

    September 30, 2010 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
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