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. Pete the Biochemist

    >"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."

    This is retarded. CNN took a metaphor and said it as fact. It's called the Habitable zone.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • sf13

      Pete, you are ruining my fantasy. 🙁

      September 30, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Rich Stevens

    I just calculated...even if we had "Star Trek" Warp Technology, it would take us 18 days @ Warp Factor 6.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mk

      so would that mean family and friends on earth would age around 25 yrs while your're gone ?

      September 30, 2010 at 10:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Scott B

    "The chances for life on this planet are 100 percent". What a completely inappropriate thing to say. That's ludacris. We have no clue. We only know that it's a distance from the star where liquid water can be stable. That's necessary for life as we know it, but that's far from knowing that life exists wherever there is standing liquid water. We don't even know if the planet has water. From what we think we know, the planet is most likely tidally locked with the star meaning one side is always facing the star. That's a much different environment than what we are used to on Earth and may not be conducive to life developing.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • arthurr

      how can a 'chance' be 100%. That's like saying there is a CHANCE of youwinning the lottery and it is 100% chance. Sure your chance is 100%. But that doesn't mean you will WIN 100% come on 'scientists"-get real.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. MR.E

    wonder if they invented a religion yet??

    September 30, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Craig

    All of these comments for perhaps the most important discovery of the decade and not one single intelligent comment so far. Disgraceful.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • V

      Including yours. Feel free to bless us with intelligent comments.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • nixboox

      There's nothing intelligent that can be said beyond the fact that there's really something terribly wrong with an astronomer who doesn't understand statistics. There is not "100%" chance of anything on this planet other than it is, in fact, a planet. They don't know its composition or anything useful. What is happening is that someone who is probably a PhD-candidate has made a faux pas which astronomers all over the world will have to live down when it turns out they're wrong YET AGAIN! Sensationalism in journalism is a cancer on all humanity.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • sf13

      Yep. Ain't it great! I love America!

      September 30, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • MrsFizzy

      Still a pre-discovery discovery, isn't it??

      September 30, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. MGM

    Fantastic! They should check out HD 283271 as well! It's 16 lys away, is sun-like, and ancients told us to search our ancestors there:)

    September 30, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
  7. df

    any other science article, the religious would bombard it about how god created it blah blah blah. When it concerns the universe, there are no comments of such. Heaven = sky, we've already been past heaven when man landed on the moon, yet we still have billions of people still looking for a god in heaven.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
  8. steeler73

    Lets do f this place up first come first serve natural resources

    September 30, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  9. justmeanddog

    What "surprises" me is that so many intelligent people seem surprised by this discovery. What that indicates to me is the "depth" of our arrogance and self-importance. Why would any educated and intelligent person believe that "we" and our planet would be some kind of "special" case. Where is the "evidence" for such an assumption. Do we really suppose that the elements that make up us and our surroundings differ so much from the rest of the our universe. Just think about that for a moment.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      justmeandog, The surprise isn't that an earth-like planet exists - the surprise is that we found one so close. 20 light years is extrodinarily close in terms of intrastellar space, and the chances that one of the 118 stars closest to us would have an earth-like planet isn't very high.

      September 30, 2010 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Sattori9

    I like how the artist rendering shows green photosynthesizing plants on the side of the planet that never receives any light.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Robert W.

    Nice, lets rush up there and see if it is a nice place to live. We should be able to get there in 784,391 years according to someone on yahoo. Would that be about 24,000 human generations? Maybe there is a walmart and a mcdonalds. On the other hand, maybe we'll just pass on that idea. I do think the discovery is interesting.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      You only need generation ships if you travel really really slow.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert W.

      FTL? Don't have that yet.

      September 30, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Sarooh

    Journalists should know better than to put a question mark in a headline. And I beg the CNN science writers to try and present the information accurately instead of sensationalizing it. It cheapens the REAL importance of this new information.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Dan Beach

    OK...where are the "T'ea Partier' s" this voodoo science cannot go unanswered.... surely one of them has a ("Fox") degree in astrology

    September 30, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Warhammer

    Let's get a probe and send it on its way to see this planet. Maybe we'll hear back from it in a few hundred years! 🙂

    September 30, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan Beach

      Yes..Sarah Palin (R-Twitter)... launch code activate

      September 30, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anonymous

      200 years to be exact, if they send a probe.

      October 1, 2010 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
  15. STPF(

    The planet is three times the size of Earth, but the gravity is similar.

    You can not have the same gravity on a biger mass that that the earth has on it,

    Galactic diversity is not the same factor any where nxt to any point, near any point,

    in other words there no other planet to live in our bodies any where but here.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott B

      The planet can be less dense than Earth though.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • shecky

      there's this thing you have a high degree of. Density. that planet has somewhat less of it than our own.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Three times the size of Earth is not the same as taking the Earth's radius and multiplying by 3. Do your math ..... It's the 3 dimensional volume of the ball (Earth) x3.

      September 30, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • sf13

      Whay do you have to be so technical all the time?

      September 30, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
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