"The arrest warrant is for a felony violation of section 288 (a) of the California penal code, which is child molestation," Sergeant Lance Craig said.
"It is for multiple counts of child molestation and a conviction could lead to more than eight years in prison, I understand."
According to police sources, a bail for Jackson has been set at three million dollars.The pop star has been given a "specific amount of time" to surrender himself to authorities and hand over his passport, said Santa Barbara Sheriff Jim Anderson.
The police also appealed for any other alleged child abuse victims of the superstar to come forward.
Before announcing the charges, there have been widespread media reports that the 45-year-old singer is being investigated on allegations that he molested a 12-year-old boy who stayed at his Neverland Ranch about three months ago.
About 60 police investigators have been searching Jackson's Neverland Ranch compound in central California since Tuesday, hauling away dozens of boxes.
Jackson lashes out
Earlier, Jackson lashed out at the "rogues gallery of hucksters and inside sources" who dominated the airwaves on Tuesday speculating on the investigation.
"These characters always seem to surface with a dreadful allegation just as another project, an album, a video, is being released," Jackson said on Tuesday.
The former child star
who thinks he is Peter Pan
The search warrant was executed on the day that a new greatest hits collection was released, featuring Jackson's latest single, One More Chance.
Jackson, a former child star who says he thinks of himself as Peter Pan, has been dogged for 10 years by allegations stemming from his professed affection for young children.
In 1994 he reached a multimillion dollar out of court settlement with a 14-year-old boy who accused him of sexual molestation. No criminal charges were brought and Jackson strenuously denied any wrongdoing.