Researchers have declared that there could be at least 8.8 billion potentially-habitable Earth-sized planets around Sun-like stars 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 3,500 potential planets by measuring dips in stars' brightness.
In the study, researchers used data gathered from Kepler and used it to create a new approach to the habitable planet hunting problem. The team's approach: determine just how many Sun-like stars there are in the Milky Way and go from there in calculating how many planets may be in these stars' 'habitable zones,' the not too hot/cold regions were life as we know it could arise.
According to the study, there are about 200 billion stars in the Milky Way, with about 40 billion of those being similar to our Sun. Using the Kepler data, which determined that 22% of Sun-like stars have an Earth-sized planet, scientists calculated that there could be roughly 8.8 billion alien Earths in our galaxy alone.
On top of that, when figuring in planetary populations around other, more common types of stars, they came up with a rand total of 40 billion Earth-like worlds.
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: 40 billion inhabitable planets capable of supporting life as we know it. Now, even if life only arises on 1% of these planets, that's 40 million populated planets and even if only 1% of those planets have evolved intelligent life, that's still 400,000 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 4,000 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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