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. ***

    We're moving to a new planet. This one is dirty.

    October 1, 2010 at 12:28 am | Report abuse |
  2. davconquor

    Most of you think that this is so romantic finding new planets and those people will welcome you
    with open arms.
    If they are more advanced than earth, they will be hostile and will try to impose their wills on us.

    We may be facing a new crop of gengis khan, attila the hun, caligula, nero, etc, etc.
    Most likely they are not going to be friendly.
    Then we are going to face a problem of how to survive with them trying to enslave us.

    October 1, 2010 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
  3. Tom

    What a bunch of B.S. Next they will tell you about the little green men on it's surface. They just want to find a way to dig deeper into your pockets for the NASA budget scam. Maybe they'll try to sell us a bridge next ??

    October 1, 2010 at 12:50 am | Report abuse |
    • spacexplorer

      NASA? Nasa didn't have anything to do with this find. Have you even looked at the NASA Budget ? They get absolutely jack nothing. This is University professors seeking money. I wish NASA had made this find because it would be more accurate and none of this life speculation nonsense....

      And no, a STABLE planet does NOT make it better for life as we know it. The majority of life on earth relies on the timing of instability, such as moon/tidal cycles. Think gestation, seasons for agriculture, wind currents, tectonics, weather patterns. As a scientist, we would rather see the same instabilities as earth. Those that made the find are just happy (and rightfully so) they found something neat. The article is written in a way to troll for comments, with a find that is noteworthy, but not spectacular.

      October 17, 2010 at 12:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Jonathan

      Yeah, I also think a lot of what was stated would reduce the chance of life. An orbit of 37 days, yet being in a similar orbit as earth is doesn't seem right to me.

      As earth seasons are tied into our orbit around the sun in an ellipse rather than a circle, it would be expected that this planet would as well. That would make 4 seasons pass in little more than a month. That would alone restrict life to the tropical regions rather than the temperate regions.

      The gravity reportedly being similar while the planet is 3 times the size would indicate that the chemical makeup of the planet is completely different. Depending on this chemical makeup, would there be the right combination to allow for life to be supported. If I am thinking correctly, this gravity for the size would require that there be very little in the way of heavy metals in the planet's crust.

      I also find it strange that this planet would be considered viable for life based on the one side always faces the sun. With an orbit of 37 days, the tidal forces on the planet must be extreme to say the least. I would think that even if cellular life were to form, it wouldn't last long because of this. Not to mention the further reduction in viability based on my first point, you now have equatorial AND daylight side.

      I think this is an astronomer making this comment without even thinking what is really needed to support life. The 'goldilocks' zone is important yes, but it isn't the only thing that would be required, and it is those other things that I don't believe that this person has the qualifications to comment on. Now this statement of 100% chance may be based only on the goldilocks factor alone and it doesn't mean that life is likely, just that there is a chance of it.

      October 28, 2010 at 4:03 am | Report abuse |
  4. james

    Is there weed ?

    October 1, 2010 at 12:51 am | Report abuse |
  5. SOLEY

    Planet discovery how wonderfull . Have we checked who owns it ?Because we dont what to be preparing for sofisticated weapon to destroyed its habitan.As if we're more clever.Thanks god the bush is not around.

    October 1, 2010 at 12:54 am | Report abuse |
  6. carlo mau asam

    Ha finally proof that GOD ,Jesus and Allah and who ever you pray to have nothing to do wth anything regarding our life here on earth...
    I would be glad if that planet has life and would shoot us down upon entering their atmosphere...
    We have no business there as you can see what we are doing to this planet..... Humanity STINKS Religion is nothing but a freaked mind that is looking for something to mentally hold on.... once we realize we where dropped on this planet because our genes became the corporate mind of todays society,,,and we distroy more than that we care for......CNN shows already what direction our own planet is heading to support our own kind......I am glad we will only be able to look at them........and they are watching us like we are a bunch of ants in a tupper ware box......and we can not crawl out..........them ganja make the mind ease , peace mind is free

    October 1, 2010 at 1:05 am | Report abuse |
  7. Paradisso

    20 light years away....whether or not life who cares," Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad."

    October 1, 2010 at 1:49 am | Report abuse |
  8. M Waseem Akhtar

    I am glad to hear this news.As God said in His Holly Book Al Quraan that this univers is very lager and there is
    alot of knowledge for the people who think and try to discover new things.Not only this plant have live but there
    would be un countalble planets in this univers which will have life.

    October 1, 2010 at 2:42 am | Report abuse |
  9. Humanity_01

    Lets name this planet Vulcan

    October 1, 2010 at 4:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Emily

      At least somone around here has a sense of humor. Although a bit off topic. I found it entertaining.

      October 28, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
  10. justmeanddog

    I am "almost" 100% sure that I have proof of " the existence of a micro-black-hole" in the "cyber-space between myself and this comment board. It is the only plausible explanation for the disappearance of a couple of comments I placed here at 2 different times last evening. If this comment appears I will take that as proof that it has changed position in cyber-space. Here goes.

    October 1, 2010 at 5:59 am | Report abuse |
  11. justmeanddog

    It worked! It worked! I was right! I was right!

    October 1, 2010 at 6:02 am | Report abuse |
  12. sagar

    i wannaa go to the new planet if it iz free of cost

    October 1, 2010 at 6:26 am | Report abuse |
  13. Anonymous

    ...This just means it spins the wrong way xD

    October 1, 2010 at 7:16 am | Report abuse |
  14. HippyLover

    Good thing the Obama administration cut our future in space to low earth orbit via Chinese and Russian suppliers.

    No Mars. No deep space. No dice.

    Enjoy looking and speculating for a long time to come. Going anywhere just ain't happening.

    At least we have a good health care system. Oh, wait, maybe not. This admin broke that too. Anyone spare a dime?

    October 1, 2010 at 8:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Missy

      Um, sir. Yes Obama did cut funding for space missions- but put more money into NASA to search for better fuel efficient vehicles to travel farther distances in shorter time. Our space exploration funding got greater under him, not less.

      October 18, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. alber


    October 1, 2010 at 8:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Missy

      You are correct in that the star is "smaller" than our own Sun, but the Planet is also closer to its star than we are to the Sun, so it is within the "Goldilocks zone" to produce water- and just because it is tidily locked (in other words it's Year is as long as it's day) doesn't mean it cannot hold life- as a matter of fact it's set up like it's equator is on one "pole" and the ice caps are on the opposite "pole" and the great zone for life is right along the "Twilight zone" between the two.

      October 18, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
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