News / Science & Technology

Milky Way Could Contain 100 Billion Planets

A section of the Milky Way as seen by the Kepler telescope.
A section of the Milky Way as seen by the Kepler telescope.
It seems like hardly a week goes by without another planet being discovered in some far off stellar system, but a new study, released by the California Institute of Technology, indicates there will likely be many, many more such discoveries.

The Caltech team made this conclusion based on analyzing the planets orbiting the Kepler-32 star, which contains five planets and which the scientists say is representative of the vast majority of stars in our galaxy. Kepler-32 is classified as an M dwarf, and scientists say three out of every four stars in the galaxy are M dwarfs, also known as red dwarfs.

"There's at least 100 billion planets in the galaxy—just our galaxy," says John Johnson, assistant professor of planetary astronomy at Caltech and coauthor of the study, which was recently accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. "That's mind-boggling."

Scientists say their estimate of 100 billion planets is conservative because it doesn’t take into account planets which may be orbiting further away from M dwarfs or planets orbiting other types of stars.

According to the scientists, Kepler-32’s five planets, which were detected by the Kepler space telescope, are similar in size to Earth. They are also similar to other planets discovered around other M dwarf stars. They all orbit very close to their star, no further than one-third the distance Mercury orbits our Sun. This is typical of M dwarf systems, Johnson said.

While the planets may resemble Earth in size, the Kepler-32 system differs from the Solar System. The star is much cooler than the sun, has only five percent of its brightness and is only half the size.

Johnson said an alternate headline for the discovery is just how much of a “weirdo” our own solar system is compared to the vast majority of systems in the galaxy.

Still, the Kepler-32 star system does have what is called a “habitable zone,” where liquid water could exist. In the Kepler-32 system, only the outermost planet is in that zone,  but Johnson said it likely resembles Neptune and would likely not support life.

Because of its orientation, Kepler-32 presents itself as a great opportunity to study as all the planets’ orbits are in a plane and can be viewed edge-on as they briefly block the light from the star. These small changes in light allow scientists to determine the planets’ characteristics such as size and orbital speed.

"I usually try not to call things 'Rosetta stones,' but this is as close to a Rosetta stone as anything I've seen," Johnson says. "It's like unlocking a language that we're trying to understand—the language of planet formation."

Johnson said the next big question would be if any of the planets in the habitable zones around M dwarf stars could support life.

“There are 20 different factors on Earth, and we don’t know how to rank them,” Johnson said. “Do we need a moon? It’s important. How critical? Do you have to have plate tectonics?”

Johnson said those questions are best suited for climate scientists and geologists.

“Until we have the ability to study those things, we won’t know if they’re hospitable,” he said. “If you were looking at our Solar System from an alien world, you might write a press release saying you’d discovered two planets in the habitable zone. Venus is in the habitable zone, but it’s not a good vacation spot.”

You May Like

Video Protests Continue in Ferguson, Spread to Other US Cities

Missouri officials say deployment of more than 2,000 National Guard soldiers helps curb second night of rampant arson and looting in Midwestern town More

Video Ebola, Crackdown on Illegals Hit Business in Guangzhou

Chinese city has largest community of Africans in Asia More

Video Legendary Lebanese Actress, Singer Sabah Dies at 87

Music and film diva, affectionately called 'Sabbouha' by millions of her fans, performed at Carnegie Hall in New York, Royal Albert Hall in London, Olympia in Paris, Sydney Opera House in Sydney More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Ciaran Mulcahy. from: Dublin, Ireland.
January 07, 2013 6:50 AM
Unless one believes in a religious explanation for life, and its creation; or, even, that human existance is so rare, that the fact that what we regard as human life, developed at all, is miraculous; we 'have' to be able to prove that our planet is 'not' the only place where human-life exists.

Does recent information sent back from electronic equipment on Mars, aid us to one day believe, that human-life on this planet, 'could' have moved to Earth, from Mars?.

Something like two, or three decades ago, scientists and astronomers believed, at least for a while, that radio-telescopes had detected the reception of a decipherable alphabetical letter-symbol, which they believed, could have been real, and extra-terrestrial in origin. What part of the universe, and its galaxies, was it detected as possibly originating from; and in what Broadcast-Frequency Range?. Could the 'apparent' transmission of an 'apparent' random alphabetical-letter, been due to a random burst, from a known, or, equally, unknown gas, or liquid, from some undetermined source?


by: sifandy from: Indonesia
January 06, 2013 9:47 AM
wow amazing, that very wonderfull


by: ReadIt from: Miami
January 06, 2013 12:15 AM
The Universe is a fractal, organic system, which reproduces complementary, social networks of energy and information that self-organize themselves in bigger, self-similar scales which constantly undergo endless cycles of creation and destruction. All entities are 'cellular societies' organized through energy and information networks that bring about processes of social evolution of parts into wholes. All sciences share the laws of duality, systems and organicism since the properties of energy and information remain invariant in all the scales of reality. The result is the fractal structure of the Universe, a superorganism made of smaller superorganisms. :-)

http://evolutionaryeconomics.wordpress.com/general-systems-science/life-cultures-vs-animetal-nations/


by: James from: Nebraska
January 04, 2013 9:03 PM
Gazing is the point. One will learn where it all comes from by studying evidence, not mysticism.

And shadows on the wall? No. They are looking at actual star systems that can be demonstrated to exist.


by: Rob Swift from: Great Britain
January 04, 2013 6:21 PM
One day these people will get clued up. They marvel at the material universe without grasping the overall picture. They gaze at stars like they are gazing at a screen, without grasping how, or from where, it is all projected . They marvel at mere shadows on the wall.


by: Dan from: Utah
January 04, 2013 4:57 PM
So many possibilities, so little time, and the question of the century… with so many planets in the universe, what is the possibility of “intelligent” life on one of them? Let’s not fool around and assume this intelligent life will be about where humans are or at least close to it. Let’s imagine there is one out there that has been around for hundreds of millions of years. This is an intelligent species that has learned not to destroy itself because it still exists… with all that knowledge, surely they would know how to do a good job of it if they were so inclined. Therefore, we have a species that is at least at peace with itself and most likely others. We are talking about hundreds of millions of years beyond where we are today in knowledge and wisdom. Hmmm, I wonder if we would consider them gods if we were to meet them or perhaps we have. Perhaps that is why we are the dominant species on earth, except for all those pesky bacteria, that is. 

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid