Hundreds of Billions of Earth-like Planets May Support Life in Our Galaxy

First Posted: Feb 05, 2015 07:00 AM EST

Determining which planets are most hospitable to life is a crucial component of finding actual life outside of our solar system. Now, though, this mission may be getting a bit easier. Scientists have calculated that there may be hundreds of billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy which could support life.

In order to make these calculations, the researchers applied a 200-year-old idea, the Titius-Bode relation to the thousands of exoplanets discovered by the Kepler space telescope. The Titius-Bode relation is a hypothesis that the bodies in some orbital systems, including the sun's, orbit at semi-major axes in a function of planetary sequence.

The Kepler space telescope is actually biased toward seeing planets very close to their stars. To get around this, the researchers extrapolated from Kepler's results using the theory that was used to predict the existence of Uranus: the Titius-Bod relation.

Using the data, they found that the standard star has about two planets in the so-called Goldlilocks zone, where it's neither too hot nor too cold and where liquid water can exist.

"The ingredients for life are plentiful, and we now know that habitable environments are plentiful," said Chaley Lineweaver, one of the researchers, in a news release. "However, the universe is not teeming with aliens with human-like intelligence that can build radio telescopes and space ships. Otherwise we would have seen or heard from them. It could be that there is some other bottleneck for the emergence of life that we haven't work out yet. Or intelligent civilizations evolve, but then self-destruct."

The findings reveal that there may be more life on other planets than expected. This may mean that scientists will have a fruitful hunting ground for extraterrestrial life as they continue t comb the depths of space.

The findings are published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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