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Astronomers say 100 billion planets in the galaxy and what this means to you

By Marshall Connolly (Catholic Online)
January 4th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A new study by astronomers suggests there could be at least 100 billion planets in the Milky Way galaxy. The study has implications for our understanding of the universe and the search for life beyond our solar system.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A study of the star Kepler-32, an M-class dwarf star with a system of five planets, has led researchers to conclude that planets are very common around stars. By example, our own solar system has eight planets and several minor planets.

M-class dwarf stars are the most common stars in our galaxy, and they are smaller than our sun. Researchers working with Jonathan Swift, the lead author of the study as reported by Space.com, say that if every M dwarf star has but one planet, the galaxy would have at least 100 billion planets.

The question then becomes if any planets reside in the habitable zone around their stars, which is a virtual certainty. Beyond that, other minor factors come into play in determining if a planet is suitable for life as we know it.

While most planets would likely be uninhabitable for various reasons, let's say they formed too recently, are struck too frequently by comets and asteroids, or perhaps they spin too quickly; with 100 billion chances at least one should be habitable.

This has two key implications. One, is that there must certainly be other planets in the Milky Way capable of supporting human life, should we someday travel to them successfully for the purpose of colonization. The second is that these planets may themselves contain life, even possibly intelligent life.

Other astronomers have predicted that the first truly Earth-like planet will be discovered soon, maybe as early as this year. That means it will be a planet of similar mass to ours, as well as similar surface temperatures. Such a planet would warrant close investigation.

In reality, the study has probably yielded conservative results. The study is only of M-class dwarf stars, which while the majority, are not the only stars in the Milky Way. When all the stars of the galaxy are taken into consideration and the fact that many stars, no matter the class, have multiple planets, the 100 billion chances now rises by a multiple factor.

The size of that factor is unknown, but if you were a gambler wagering on the likelihood of there being another Earth-like planet, you'd do well to bet on the planets.

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