Researchers at the Smithsonian have declared that there could be 4.5 billion potentially-habitable Earth-sized 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 2,700 potential planets by measuring dips in stars' brightness.
In the study, the researchers at the Smithsonian used data gathered from Kepler and expanded the data to serve as a basis for the whole galaxy. End result: if Kepler's data is representative for the galaxy as a whole, the team estimates that about 6% of red dwarf stars, the most numerous type of star in the galaxy, have at least one planet the size of or slightly larger than Earth in their habitable zones. Implication: if the estimate of there being about 75 billion red dwarfs in the galaxy is true, that makes about 4.5 billion potentially life-hosting planets in our galaxy alone.
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?
Speaking on the study,lead researcher Courtney Dressing of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics declared that “according to our analysis, the closest Earth-like planet is likely within 13 light-years, which is right next door in terms of astronomical distances,"
Needless to say, the implications of this study are awe-inspiring. Think of it: 4.5 billion inhabitable planet capable of supporting life as we know it. Now, even if life only arises on 1% of these planets, that's 45 million populated planets and even if only 1% of those planets have evolved intelligent life, that's still 450,000 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 4,500 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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