Earth-Like Planets Are Likely Out There, Astronomers Say

Tuesday, 05 Nov 2013 05:42 PM

By David Ogul

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There could be billions of Earth-like planets orbiting around stars in the Milky Way, according to a new study by astronomers from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Hawaii.

The discovery, UC Berkeley astronomer Geoffrey Marcy told the Los Angeles Times, “represents one great leap toward the possibility of life, including intelligent life, in the universe.”

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In all, astronomers calculate that one in five stars like the sun hosts a planet that could hold water on its surface. The findings were published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That means there could be some 8.8 billion stars in the galaxy with planets roughly the same size as Earth and with a surface temperature that could sustain life.

“Planets like our Earth are relatively common throughout the Milky Way galaxy,” University of Hawaii astronomer Andrew Howard told USA Today, adding that he estimates the number at 40 billion.

The estimate is based on the latest statistical analysis on observations from the Kepler telescope, a space-based observatory launched four years ago with the intent of locating planets around other stars.

“It seems that the universe produces plentiful real estate for life that somehow resembles life on Earth," UC Berkeley astronomer Erik Petigura told The New York Times. The nearest such planet, he added, could be as close as just 12 light years away.

The Times noted, however, that the latest estimates are far from certain. For example, while the planets may be the same size as Earth, their masses have not been measured. We have no way of knowing – yet – whether they are rocky like the Earth or balls of ice or gas. And astronomers don’t know if anything can survive on them.

Also not known is whether the other Earth-like planets have Twitter.

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