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.

Post by:
Filed under: Science • Space
soundoff (1,327 Responses)
  1. danceonedge

    It sounds to me like there is at least a 50% chance that these over-educated geniuses don't have a clue.

    October 1, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. lion8875

    God put us on earth for a reason you know?

    October 1, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  3. peter

    its exciting we found a planet similar to earth and at such a short distance. considering the size of the visible universe.

    October 1, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  4. i dont wanna be that guy

    i dont wanna be that guy..... but.. if the earth was made in 6000 years by god no other planets should be here. o wait the bible shouldn't be read literally my bad

    October 1, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  5. the truth

    we should send space missionaries to teach them islam! =)

    October 1, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Huh?

    I don't know what truth do I have to believe, but I'm sure that there are lots of planets like earth..

    October 2, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Huh?

    I don't know what truth do I have to believe, but I'm sure that there are lots of planets like earth.
    and I think scientists made a mistake of looking for aliens.
    We don't have any pr that aliens need water to survive.
    We don't have any reason that aliens have same position like our solar system.
    and I am worried about the people who have some bad purpose to find new-habitable planet.
    Include, colonized new planet to get some resources.
    However, even though we found the planet, we can not go there with our spacecraft.
    It takes 70 years at least.

    October 2, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  8. D

    The comments here realy amaze me! The FACT is, the earth is just right for life. Not to hot, not to cold. I am 100% sure that no other planet is like the earth. Why has there never been any discovery of life anywhere outside of the earth? anykind of life? f all the meteors that have hit the earth, all the partical that have landed here, No other life has shown up. They all originate from here.

    October 2, 2010 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jel

      We haven't the technology to explore as much of the universe as we would like. We are limited by it. The discovery of this earth like planet is us going in the right direction. Asteroids brought water to earth when it was first forming, as they did to other planets so the likely hood of there being other planets that are the same as ours is pretty much a guaranteed.

      October 3, 2010 at 1:04 am | Report abuse |
  9. Talya

    That is amazing, I really can not wait for them to get a space prob ( Like cassini, Although not really cassini :P) out there to get a really good look at it.

    October 2, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  10. fred

    we need to hurry and send people over there to teach them islam before they go to heck!

    October 2, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. justmeanddog

    To all those people who think that it is necessary to have identical Earth like conditions for Life to arise and flourish Just think of the abundant life recently found under our oceans beside hot vents and the fact that such life arose without the benefit of sunlight. Then remember that tiny creatures have been found living beneath the Glaciers of Antarctica. We only reinforce our arrogance when we presuppose that "Life" needs certain specific conditions that we assume it needs. What we define as "life" will evolve as we look deeper and deeper into the Universe that surrounds us. Who knows maybe the vibrations of "Strings" are the echos of the voices of living creatures inhabiting dimensions surrounding our own and we are just pieces of their left over conversations. Just ripples in "Dark Matter" emanating from beyond our own dimensional borders. Now that would be cool!

    October 2, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  12. billy

    or mabye not

    October 2, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  13. TR

    "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." LOL! The 101st and 102nd percentile must be where the doubt lies. What a stupid quote.

    October 2, 2010 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
  14. vjzombie

    i'm pretty excited about this find.. it could lead to the expansion of the human race from earth into the galaxy.. we might not be stuck on this planet after all....

    October 3, 2010 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
  15. schrodingers cat

    Attention Dr. Vogt. This planet does appear to orbit in the habitable zone, but there is absolutely no way to be certain that it has life. Habitability is affected by much more than orbital distance. We know nothing whatsoever about the atmosphere of this planet. If there's too much CO2 or some other greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, the planet will be like Venus, much too warm to support life. If there aren't enough of these gases, it will be too cold like Mars. Making the situation worse is that a planet orbiting that close to its sun is likely tidally locked. That means that one side of the planet is always facing the sun and the other is always dark. One side of such a planet would be far too warm, the other side would be far too cold. While it is possible that Gliese 581g could support life, the probability isn't anywhere close to 100%. Giving such a statement to the media was a terrible mistake which could set back the credibility of the entire exoplanet field for decades.

    October 9, 2010 at 10:11 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47