Monday, 11 November 2013
Two Billion Planets in Our Galaxy May Be Suitable for Life
Our galaxy probably contains at least two billion planets that, like Earth, have liquid water on their surfaces and orbit around their parent stars in the "habitable zone" for life. The nearest, according to astronomers, could be a mere 12 light years away.
A new study, published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that Earth-like planets capable of supporting life are far more common than previously thought. Using measurements from Nasa's Kepler space observatory, scientists led by Erik Petigura at the University of California, Berkeley, estimated that 22% of our galaxy's sun-like stars have rocky planets circling them in the zone where they get roughly the same amount of light energy as Earth receives from the sun. There are around 100bn stars in our galaxy, of which 10% are like the sun.
So far Kepler has studied more than 150,000 stars and identified more than 3,000 candidate planets, but many of these are "gas giants", similar to Jupiter, that orbit close to their parent stars. If there is life out there, it is far more likely to have evolved on rocky planets with liquid water on their surfaces, similar to Earth.
To get their results, Petigura's team looked for planets in Kepler data that had a radius up to double that of Earth. They searched for planets that orbited far enough from their star that liquid water would not evaporate, but not so far that the water would all freeze.
Subhanjoy Mohanty, an astrophysicist at Imperial College London who was not involved with the study, said: "This is the first estimate of the frequency of Earth-like planets around sun-like stars, in orbits large enough to lie in the habitable zone of their stars. The finding that roughly one in five sun-like stars may host such planets is an incredibly important one, probably exceeding the expectations of most cautious astronomers."
He added that the latest analysis increased the chances that there might be life somewhere among the stars.
The idea that reports of UFOs could not represent the visitation to the Earth of a technological civilisation, or a number of them, in the face of this data, seems very unlikely.
If we are being observed by advanced forms of life we could expect them to act as we might in many scientific experiments, where the best method is often one in which the observers avoid direct interaction with the subject matter.
UFOs, SCIENCE and THE COVER-UP
[Posted at the SpookyWeather blog, November 11th, 2013.]