Turns out this galaxy is a pretty crowded place. A new study of NASA data says there are billions and billions of planets similar to Earth in the Milky Way alone.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley estimate about 22 percent of stars similar to our Sun have planets of similar size and temperature to Earth. The math works out to about 10 billion potential Earths. (Via YouTube / ucberkeleycampuslife)
The researchers used data from NASA's Kepler telescope, launched in 2009 to study planets in our galaxy. Kepler studied light levels from stars across the Milky Way, looking for the shadows of orbiting planets.
The telescope suffered a mechanical failure earlier this year and was shut down, but scientists are still pouring over the four years of data. More than 3,600 planet candidates have been found so far. (Via The New York Times)
The study’s lead researcher Erik Petigura says this analysis will give scientists a better picture of where to look in the search for a hospitable planet.
“When you look up at the thousands of stars in the night sky, the nearest sun-like star with an Earth-size planet in its habitable zone is probably only 12 light years away and can be seen with the naked eye. That is amazing.” (Via University of California, Berkeley)
Of course, there’s still a world of difference between “Earth-like” and “habitable” planets.
A Slate writer notes many of these planets might be “a blazing hell like Venus. Or … a cold, desolate desert like Mars. Or it may have a lot of ammonia in the air, or some other noxious gas. We don’t know anything yet about such contingencies.”
The study was published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.