News / Science & Technology

Study Finds Billions of Earth-like Planets

Illustration of planets that are habitable based on their proximity to the sun. (Photo credit: Petigura/UC Berkeley, Howard/UH-Manoa, Marcy/UC Berkeley)
Illustration of planets that are habitable based on their proximity to the sun. (Photo credit: Petigura/UC Berkeley, Howard/UH-Manoa, Marcy/UC Berkeley)
Rick Pantaleo
Astronomers from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Hawaii, Manoa say that based on new analysis of Kepler spacecraft data, one in five stars similar to our own sun are orbited by planets about the size of Earth, with a surface temperature that would be favorable to support life.

 

"What this means is, when you look up at the thousands of stars in the night sky, the nearest sun-like star with an Earth-size planet in its habitable zone is probably only 12 light years away and can be seen with the naked eye," said UC Berkeley graduate student Erik Petigura, who led the analysis of the Kepler data. "That is amazing,"

 

Petigura, along with his colleagues Geoffrey Marcy from UC Berkeley and Andrew Howard from the University of Hawaii, have had their analysis published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
 

The researchers point out that just because an exoplanet is Earth-sized or is in an Earth-sized orbit does not automatically mean that it can to support life, even if their orbits are within a star’s habitable zone, where temperatures are not too hot or too cold.


"Some may have thick atmospheres, making it so hot at the surface that DNA-like molecules would not survive," Marcy said. "Others may have rocky surfaces that could harbor liquid water suitable for living organisms. We don't know what range of planet types and their environments are suitable for life."

Artist's impression of the planet Kepler-78b and its host star. (Karen Teramura/UHIfA)Artist's impression of the planet Kepler-78b and its host star. (Karen Teramura/UHIfA)
x
Artist's impression of the planet Kepler-78b and its host star. (Karen Teramura/UHIfA)
Artist's impression of the planet Kepler-78b and its host star. (Karen Teramura/UHIfA)
Last week Marcy, Howard and their colleagues made news when they announced that they found Kepler-78b, an Earth-sized exoplanet with the same density and a core made up of the same mixture of rock and iron as our own planet.

But since it orbits so close to its star, this newly-discovered rocky planet has a blazing surface temperature of about 2,200 degrees Kelvin, which is far too hot to support life as we know it.

The team focused on 42,000 stars that are like the sun or slightly cooler and smaller. Among those stars, the researchers said they found 603 candidate planets orbiting them. Of these candidate exoplanets, only 10 were Earth-sized, meaning that they were about one to two times the diameter of Earth and orbiting their star at a distance that would provide life supporting temperatures.

To find how many other Earth-sized planets residing in habitable zones they missed in their search, the researchers put planet-finding algorithms devised by Petigura through a number of tests. In these tests, Petigura actually threw in some fake planets into the actual Kepler data to find out which planets his software could detect and which it couldn't.

"What we're doing is taking a census of extrasolar planets, but we can't knock on every door. Only after injecting these fake planets and measuring how many we actually found, could we really pin down the number of real planets that we missed," Petigura said.

NASA's Kepler spacecraft observed 150,000 stars within a field in the constellation Cygnus. (NASA)NASA's Kepler spacecraft observed 150,000 stars within a field in the constellation Cygnus. (NASA)
x
NASA's Kepler spacecraft observed 150,000 stars within a field in the constellation Cygnus. (NASA)
NASA's Kepler spacecraft observed 150,000 stars within a field in the constellation Cygnus. (NASA)
Taking several factors into consideration, such these missing planets, and that only a small number of Earth-like exoplanets are situated in such way that they can be seen transiting in front of their host stars from Earth, the team estimated that 22 percent of all sun-like stars in the galaxy have Earth-size planets in their habitable zones.

"Until now, no one knew exactly how common potentially habitable planets were around Sun-like stars in the galaxy," said Marcy.

Although they found all of the possibly habitable planets circling around cooler K stars, or Orange Dwarfs, which are somewhat smaller than our sun, the researchers said that the results of their analysis could also be inferred to G stars like the sun.

The researchers speculated that if the Kepler spacecraft hadn’t been crippled by technical malfunctions this past spring and was able to fully continue its research mission, it would have been able to gather enough data to directly detect some Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of G-type stars.

This new, more thorough analysis of Kepler data made by the researchers shows that "nature makes about as many planets in hospitable orbits as in close-in orbits," said Howard.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Steve Hopkins from: New York
November 06, 2013 2:23 PM
That means there's probably somebody, somewhere on one or more of these billions of planets watching Brady Bunch reruns on a protoplasmic TV, thanking their lucky stars that they don't live here. Still, it's beyond obvious that the cosmos is teeming with life, intelligent and otherwise, some of it benevolent and syrupy-sweet and some of it bent on conquest and destruction, like us. Sometimes you just have to open your mind to see the possibilities. Here's a song to help you do that ...

by: Jim from: Philly
November 05, 2013 7:22 PM
Amazing stuff. Every year they have more information thats exciting . Can't wait til they actually discover life on another planet intelligent or not though intelligent would be awesome. Unless they are already here and NASA is just trying to get us more comfortable with the idea before the big announcement that we are not alone. ;)

by: Rb from: WW
November 05, 2013 4:57 PM
Amos 8: Seek him that makes the seven stars and Orion, and turns the shadow of death into the morning, and makes the day dark with night: that calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out on the face of the earth: The LORD is his name
In Response

by: fimani from: botswana
November 10, 2013 11:42 AM
try harder guys may be u shall find us planet haven,and stop living in confusion

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs