Researchers at Caltech have declared that there could be 100 billion planets in the Milky Way Galaxy alone. This bold statement comes on the heels of a new research study utilizing data from NASA's Kepler Observatory, which has, to date, flagged over 2,500 potential planets by measuring dips in stars' brightness.
In the study, the Caltech team focused on the probability of plants orbiting M-dwarf stars, small, long-lived stars that are, by far, the most common type of star in the galaxy. Going by Kepler's data and educated estimates (like number of red dwarfs in the galaxy)), the team came up with a number of 100 billion planets in the Milky Way alone. Other points of note: the team only made the estimate for small, rocky, Earth-like worlds and only looked at red dwarf stars. End result: there could be far more planets in the galaxy than the published figure of 100 billion.
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. Even before the Caltech study, scientists had been focusing on red dwarf stars, the tiny, long-lived stars that, according to some, could make up to about 80% of our galaxy's stellar population. Thanks to advances in technology, this can now be done as these stars were too faint to be examined for traces of planetary presence 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?
In its press release on the study, the Caltech researchers never specifically addressed the question of life itself, opting in favor of a more conservative approach dealing with trying to better understand planet formation and better estimate the number of planets in our galaxy. .
Still, the implications of this study are awe-inspiring. Think of it, even going by the low estimate of 100 billion inhabitable planets, that is still 100 billion worlds capable of supporting life. Now, even if life only arises on 1% of these planets, that's 1 billion populated planets and even if only 1% of those planets have evolved intelligent life, that's still 10 million 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 100,000 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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