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. Kerry

    The planet faces the star all the time. Meaning the planet is not spinning. No spin no gravity. But they say the gravity is like earth. Where did they find these scientist at?

    November 9, 2010 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ralf the Dog

      Gravity comes from mass not spin. You are thinking about a kind artificial gravity that may be used in the future on space stations.

      November 9, 2010 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • salgood sam

      Sorry Kerry, that's centrifugal force your thinking of not Gravity, as Ralf said. Lot's of problems with the article but that's not one of them.

      They think the planet is three times bigger but has nearly the same gravity, that would mean it's made of less dense stuff so it has less mas. If it were made of the name kind of Iron heavy rock as Earth then it would have three times the gravity. We'd be able to walk on it but it would feel like we were hugely overweight all the time. And if something lived there and came here it would feel like it was much lighter all of a sudden.

      November 9, 2010 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • MasterBlaster

      Without a proper rotation (after all, if it faces its sun the same way constantly, that would make its day the same length as its year) it would be a stagnant, lifeless planet, with either no atmosphere or a slight one that would make life almost impossible. No weather patterns, no tides, no ocean currents... NO LIFE!

      November 16, 2010 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
  2. Ralf the Dog

    What about the other 10%?

    November 9, 2010 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Matthew

    I don't see how religion has any relationship to discovering a planet that could support life. This is a scientific debate/forum not a religious one. Some religious group isn't out there divining the location, it's actually a group of scientists. Stay on topic please.

    November 9, 2010 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • aptanalogy

      You're quite naive if you think this doesn't step on anyone's religious beliefs. Most believers will find that science trespasses overtly on their fragile belief systems, on the day that life is found elsewhere in the universe. The idea of humans being a "special creation" is threatened, for instance, and it begins to look like the universe is merely a petri dish for a capricious omnipotent child, playing in his cosmic sandbox.

      November 14, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  4. PlanetIsAsset

    What seem impossible will be possible if we want it real. First we can develop the moon to live on by new technology and resources from space. Then the others and so on. Do people want to have its own planet? it is free now !! Who can take it fast.

    November 10, 2010 at 6:38 am | Report abuse |
  5. puleeeez

    Well, at least we've found a possible hide out for Elvis, Hitler, Jim Morrison, etc. Maybe Jesus, too.

    November 10, 2010 at 9:51 am | Report abuse |
  6. oops!

    I've heard that followup observations show no evidence of a planet at this location. In other words, this was a completely false detection!

    November 10, 2010 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
  7. Rangerpapa

    And we shall name this planet "Reach"

    Seriously though, this is an amazing find!

    November 10, 2010 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Halo lol

      lol halo good reference

      November 17, 2010 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  8. timd

    I wonder it that's where Olivia Newton Johns boyfriend went.

    November 10, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  9. timd

    Great news! Pot is legal there.

    November 10, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Heaven

    Yes we can build new heaven there: no stubborn monkey no islamic terror no bad people. How wonderful !!

    November 11, 2010 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
  11. sww

    The artist who drew that picture didn't read the description of the planet very well. It's tidally locked. The "dark" side of the planet never sees the sun. THERE WOULD BE NO LIQUID WATER THERE, only ice.

    November 11, 2010 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Hal

    Lay people (non-scientists) who "believe" in Science are acting on faith just as surely as those who believe in Jesus or other religious myths. How many of them have read, understood, and critiqued the various scientific treatises and studies that lead to the scientific world view? Almost none have read them all. No, instead they take these assertions on faith because, you know, Einstein said it or a Nobel winning physicist said it, or Carl Sagan had a TV show about it. Ha ha! Personally I'm one of those who buys the science myth, but make no mistake it IS a myth. And this guy's assertion that the planet they "found" is "100% capable of life" is built on a stack of inferences and assumptions that would put King James to shame.

    November 11, 2010 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
  13. OldEarth

    Soon or later someday our earth will be old to support all lifes. Deny it and say that is our generation's problem so solve it one day one month before it happen? No. It is our tasks now and so on the next generation.

    November 12, 2010 at 6:19 am | Report abuse |
  14. Tim

    100% certain life is impossible on this planet. With no atmosphere, all water would boil off, inhibiting a formation of life. With an atmosphere, the fact that one side always faces its sun and the other side doesn't means extreme temperature differences between the two. These temperature differences will set up convection currents that give constant winds probably approaching the speed of sound for the gasses. These winds will be far more powerful than any tornado on earth and continuous without let up. Resonant fluctions within the wind conditions will cause any location that might have been in a goldilocks zone to fluctuate with wild temperatre exremes, from freezing to boiling. The higher temperatures would quickly destroy any emerging biochemicals. It must be nice for Dr. Vogt to speak as though he has a legitimate scientific statement to make on something without needing to give any kind of experimental evidence to support his claims. He is not worthy of the name, "scientist."

    November 12, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Chimpout Fan

    geeze. what if there are animals like us there? will they have boons, chimps, homeeze and gangsta rap? gimme a free ride into our own sun.

    November 14, 2010 at 12:28 am | Report abuse |
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