According to data collected from the Kepler Space Telescope, an in-orbit observatory, Earth may not be as unique as it once was. Data collected from the telescope shows that one fifth of the stars observed have Earth-like planets orbiting them. These orbiting bodies that have a habitable sweet spot that is not too hot nor too cold for liquid water are called “Goldilocks” planets.
In the past three years, the Kepler Telescope has seen 150,000 different suns and 3,000 different planets. Of those 150,000 stars, UC Berkeley graduate student Erik Petigura and her team learned that 22 percent of them had planets orbiting them near the size of Earth that could potentially harbor liquid water. According to Petigura, these suns could have entire solar systems orbiting them similar to our own.
“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. That is amazing,” said Petigura.
The Kepler Telescope relies on seeing planets pass directly in front of the star it it observing. The planet must also be on the same orbital plane as the telescope. Because of these limitations, there could potentially be many more of these “Goldilocks” planets avoiding the telescope’s gaze. The telescope’s range is also limited to the Milky Way galaxy. According to Geoffrey Marcy, a professor of astronomy at Berkeley, the findings also give new insights on astronomical ideas on the universe.
“With tens of billions of Earth-like planets in each galaxy, our entire universe must contain billions of billions of Earth-like planets,” said Marcy.
As of yet, no technology exists in order to find conclusive evidence of whether the planets are in fact habitable, let alone home to an alien species. What the findings do suggest, however, is that in the next 50 years, when the likelihood of such hardware is greater, future generations will be able to find out.
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*This article was originally published on buckinghampost.com