There May be Billions of Stars with Planets in the Habitable Zone in the Milky Way Alone

First Posted: Mar 19, 2015 06:39 AM EDT

There may be planets in the habitable zone around most stars, according to a new study. Astronomers have analyzed planetary systems discovered by the Kepler satellite and have calculated the probability that might have planets in the habitable zone.

Using NASA's Kepler satellite, astronomers have found about 1,000 planets around stars in the Milky Way. They've also found about 3,000 other potential planets and many of the stars examined have planetary systems that include two to six planets.

Planets that orbit closer to their stars would be too scorching hot to have life, so to find out if such planetary systems might also have planets in the habitable zone with the potential for liquid water and life, the researchers made calculations based on a new version of a 250-year-old method called the Titius-Bod law.

The Titius-Bod law states that there is a certain ratio between the orbital periods of planets in a solar system. This means that you can calculate how long it takes for some of the planets to orbit around the star.

"We decided to use this method to calculate the potential planetary positions in 151 planetary systems, where the Kepler satellite had found between three and six planets," said Steffen Kjaer Jacobsen, one of the researchers, in a news release. "In 124 of the planetary systems, the Titius-Bode law fit with the position of the planets. Using T-B's law we tried to predict where there could be more planets further out in the planetary systems. But we only made calculations for planets where there is a good chance that you can see them with the Kepler satellite."

In the end, the researchers found the calculations would mean that just in our galaxy, the Milky Way, there could be billions of stars with planets in the habitable zone, where there could be liquid water and life could exist. The findings could have major implications for the hunt for life on other planets.

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

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