Researchers have declared that there is likely to be at least one planet around almost every star in the Milky Way Galaxy alone. This bold statement comes on the heels of a new research study utilizing data from the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) and the Ultraviolet and Visual Echelle Spectrograph (UVES), both of which are operated by the European Southern Observatory in Chile.
In the study, researchers used data gathered from these facilities and used it to comb the cosmos, specifically red dwarf stars, for signs of planets. The key here: it is estimated that 75% of stars in the Milky Way are red dwarfs. Needless to say, by ignoring these small stars, scientists could be passing over a lot of potential planets. The team's approach: use both sets of data simultaneously to create a fool-proof process as both observatories use different techniques.
Net result: almost every star could be home to at least one planet. Talk about some possibilities for alien life.
In recent years, it is the search for rocky extrasolar planets in their parent stars' habitable zones that has been the focus for astronomers. Thanks to advances in technology that allow for the measurement of stars' brightness to almost unimaginable sensitivities, this can now be done as these Earth-sized planets were simply impossible to detect with the older Doppler Shift technology that was used to find the first extrasolar planets, all of which were Jupiter-sized giants.
So, what does this mean for the chances of life?
Needless to say, the implications of this study are awe-inspiring. Think of it: almost 400 billion planets (high estimates populate the Milky Way at about 400 billion stars and numbers are trending upward as new research is published) in the Milky Way alone. Now, even if life only arises on 1% of these planets, that's 4 billion populated planets and even if only 1% of those planets have evolved intelligent life, that's still 40,000,000 planets inhabited by thinking beings. Now, if 1% of those planets with intelligent life develops technology on-par with us, that means that there could be 400,000 space-faring (or at least cosmically-communicating) civilizations out there in the blackness of interstellar space.
Needless to say, we could be far from alone if this study's estimates are correct.
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