Space discovery is expanding almost as massively as space itself — thanks to the power and clarity of the Kepler Space Telescope — making the possibility of hundreds of billions of exoplanets, if not a trillion, scientists tell Forbes.
"There are hundreds of billions of planets in the Milky Way galaxy," UCLA professor Jean-Luc Margot told the magazine.
NASA has confirmed 3,572 exoplanets and another 5,078 await verification, most discovered after the 2009 Kepler launch, according to a report.
"The game has really changed since Kepler," Margot told Forbes. "It revolutionized astronomy."
The vast numbers beyond the small piece of the universe Kepler shows us suggest a few planets around each of the estimated 100-400 billion stars, mind-boggling numbers which might only begin to estimate the numbers of exoplanets.
"You're looking at close to a trillion planets," Columbia University professor David Kipping told Forbes. "That's as good as any guess right now. It could be a trillion, it could be more than that."
Margot would not even give a number, just an Earthly hypothetic comparison.
"It's comparable to the number of grains of dry sand on all the beaches on Earth," he told Forbes.
When reducing the total estimations of exoplanets, only a fraction will wind up being in the habitable zones in a particular solar system to support life, such as Earth. Still, the massive numbers of exoplanets whittle down to "billions" which could support life.
"That's 10s of billions of planets in the galaxy with some potential for life," according to Magot.
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