Friday, February 8, 2013

Four and a Half BILLION Goldilocks Planets in our Galaxy!

NASA's Kepler Observatory has been up in space since 2009 searching for extrasolar planets. Specifically, it's targeting red dwarf star systems, because they are so numerous and because their low luminosity and size makes direct observation of any planets practical. Read more details here about why red dwarfs were chosen.

red sky and sea with earth floating
Geralt via Pixabay, Public Domain
The mission continues until at least 2015, but already Kepler has identified 18,000 candidate systems, of which 90% will likely be confirmed by other means. That number alone is amazing, but the analysis of what's been discovered so far leads scientists to extrapolate that there are 4.5 billion(!) such systems in the Milky Way that have planets orbiting in a habitable zone where water can exist.

The question is no longer "if" we have life-bearing planets in our galaxy, but "when" we will confirm their existence. Newer, more sensitive instruments in space and on Earth will be able to probe the atmospheres of these exoplanets and determine if they contain signature elements, such as oxygen.

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