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The Galaxy May Have Billions of Habitable Planets

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the going-full-drake dept.

Space 380

The Bad Astronomer writes "A recent astronomical report (abstract in Science) came out stating that as many as 1 in 4 sun-like stars have roughly earth-mass planets. But are they habitable? A simple bit of math based on some decent assumptions shows that there may be billions of potentially habitable worlds in the galaxy. '... astronomers studied 166 stars within 80 light years of Earth, and did a survey of the planets they found orbiting them. What they found is that about 1.5% of the stars have Jupiter-mass planets, 6% have Neptune-mass ones, and about 12% have planets from 3 – 10 times the Earth’s mass. This sample isn’t complete, and they cannot detect planets smaller than 3 times the Earth’s mass. But using some statistics, they can estimate from the trend that as many as 25% of sun-like stars have earth-mass planets orbiting them!' Getting to them, of course, is another problem altogether..."

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Getting to them has always been the problem (4, Insightful)

jpolonsk (739332) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064356)

It's great that we could expand to many different planets. The leap between the Moon, Mars and an extra solar planet is so enormous though that the only thing this tells us is that we may be able to more closely identify where we should listen to for signals.

Charles Stross has a great article on this. (4, Interesting)

Peter Trepan (572016) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064426)

The High Frontier, Redux [antipope.org] - Covers the true scale of the distance between planets, and the energy requirements of going between them. He estimates that sending an Apollo-sized capsule to the nearest star would take as much energy as is produced on Earth in a year.

Re:Charles Stross has a great article on this. (2, Interesting)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064608)

The distances are astronomical (ha ha). There's no economic gain at this point to going to the stars. Heck, we've barely stepped off our own rock.

Still, one would like to think that right now we're beginning the surveying aspects of future interstellar exploration, and as soon as the physicists deliver us bountiful amounts of cheap energy and some useful way around the speed of light, we will be better able to pick the targets.

Re:Charles Stross has a great article on this. (1)

Peter Trepan (572016) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064918)

Whoops - between stars.

Re:Charles Stross has a great article on this. (1)

MBGMorden (803437) | more than 4 years ago | (#34065020)

Energy affects acceleration - not distance traveled. How much energy you want to expend getting to another star all depends on how fast you want to get there.

Personally, I think mankind will end up using some variation of the generational ship to colonize the stars. Send out a nearly self-sufficient ship and let it travel for millenia of need be.

Alternatively, if we ever figure out how to truly perfect some form of cryogenic stasis, then you don't even need to do that. The movie Pandorum seemed to have a good idea on that: set out on a long journey with multiple staged crews. Each crew takes a "shift" of 10-15 years before they wake the next crew and go into cryo-stasis themselves. That way the ship is always manned, but with enough people on board you can go hundreds or thousands of years and end up with the same people you left with.

The universe has a LOT of usable time left in it. Even terribly slow travel can be useful.

Re:Getting to them has always been the problem (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34064656)

Hey, maybe we should just stay here, you know, in case other life develops there? Try to control your greed and consumerist colonial tendencies for a second and reflect upon the fact that *we* wouldn't be here if some other species had been able to colonize Earth eons ago.

Re:Getting to them has always been the problem (3, Informative)

tom17 (659054) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064864)

So I suppose you haven't heard about the Golgafrinchans?

Re:Getting to them has always been the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34064878)

Or maybe we're only here because some other species successfully colonized or visited Earth eons ago. We can't really know for sure.

Re:Getting to them has always been the problem (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064944)

If that were the case, then we'd have to bow to the creationists and how they mock our use of fossil records to show how we descended from other species over the past tens of millions of years.

Re:Getting to them has always been the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34064692)

We just need to dig up our stargate, if we haven't already. It's not like the government would tell us about it, you know.

just spin up the stargate and dial them! (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064708)

just spin up the stargate and dial them!

Re:Getting to them has always been the problem (1)

tmosley (996283) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064954)

I think the scale is about the same as Kitty Hawk to Mars.

I think we can handle it. Especially if there are hot blue and/or green alien women there.

NASA (4, Insightful)

ChrisBader (1232968) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064358)

Yet another reason not to cut NASA's budget

Re:NASA (4, Insightful)

zero.kalvin (1231372) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064432)

That what bothers me the most. The trend around the world is to cut money where there is no immediate return, everyone wants a quick buck. A nation's future is in the investment they put in research and science. But who am i to be listened to, when big corps have a hold on all the elected officials ?

Re:NASA (2, Interesting)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064588)

Private spaceflight is a lot more promising than NASA is. Especially if the goal is to find new habitable planets. With private spaceflight, every dollar is a dollar towards a goal. With NASA its a nickel towards a goal and 95 cents spent on pointless bureaucracies.

Cut funding to NASA, allow private space companies to use the R&D, blueprints and the like and watch us achieve heights that NASA never dreamed of.

Re:NASA (2, Insightful)

Darth Snowshoe (1434515) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064832)

Private spaceflight has a lot of inducement to figure out how to get stuff into earth orbit, and not very much at all to go anywhere beyond that. Trust me, I know NASA people, scientists and non-scientists. They are not pointless bureaucrats. They really want to go to the stars.

Re:NASA (1, Insightful)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064982)

They may "really want to go to the stars" but it isn't going to happen with a government program. Government programs are /always/ plagued by waste and inefficiencies. The only reason why they can sometimes get things done is because they have infinite money from stealing from taxpayers. I guarantee you if you gave private spaceflight the information and the like that NASA has and a budget that they could get stuff done faster and more efficiently than NASA could. The only reasons why we don't have private spaceflight to the moon is because A) The taxpayer-funded R&D from various missions is not available to them B) Lack of initial capital C) Government restrictions.

Re:NASA (1)

Stregano (1285764) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064942)

I have a sneaky feeling you just want your own starship. It's cool, I want one too

Re:NASA (1)

m2shariy (1194621) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064660)

NASA budget is irrelevant, rocket propulsion which it uses can barely get a probe to the Mars.

Re:NASA (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064974)

Never heard of the voyager probes [nasa.gov] ?

Re:NASA (1)

tmosley (996283) | more than 4 years ago | (#34065002)

Privatize NASA. Take 100% of the funding that is going to NASA right now, and create a huge series of X-Prizes, and we'll have the rest of the system colonized within a few decades, and we'll likely have our first probes headed toward the nearest star with potentially habitable planets on the same time scale.

Once we confirm "M-class" planets, we'll be ready to send manned probes.

Fermi's paradox. (5, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064402)

That would seem to make Fermi's paradox even more troubling. My bet is that abiogenesis is vanishingly improbable. It seems pretty reasonable to be fairly optimistic about every other term in Drake's equation.

Re:Fermi's paradox. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34064514)

That would seem to make Fermi's paradox even more troubling. My bet is that abiogenesis is vanishingly improbable. It seems pretty reasonable to be fairly optimistic about every other term in Drake's equation.

My bet is that interstellar travel is exceedingly difficult.

Re:Fermi's paradox. (4, Interesting)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064528)

I wonder what happens if we continue to expand our knowledge about exoplanets at the current rate but we don't discover life on another planet by the year 2100. Fermi's Paradox bugs the hell out of me. I can't see how we are unique... but I also can't see why the evidence of other civilizations wouldn't be obvious.

Re:Fermi's paradox. (5, Insightful)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064856)

I wonder what happens if we continue to expand our knowledge about exoplanets at the current rate but we don't discover life on another planet by the year 2100. Fermi's Paradox bugs the hell out of me. I can't see how we are unique... but I also can't see why the evidence of other civilizations wouldn't be obvious.

There are loads of reasons.

1. How long did it take for US to come about? That's a fairly long period of time for a planet to remain habitable. Cut that time down, and you drastically reduce the chance that something like 'us' will come about.

2. What good is intelligence to life? To us, it is necessary, to life? Not really. Algae and bacteria do just fine (and bacteria in some sense can be considered immortal!) Life COULD be plentiful, and intelligent life could well be so rare that it is unique.

3. Consider what we are able to see. We can basically see forms of electromagnetic radiation. That's not too useful for picking out little bits of information that would clue us in to someone else sending out information. Our emmanations are already decreasing (if considered per-capita) We can get more done with less power via directional antennas, better electronics, and now, fiber and direct access communications. We might just not see them.

4. Interstellar travel cost compared to opportunity is well... astronomical. Barring imaginary physics, the only point to go to another planet/star is to colonize it.

Think about it, we human beings are the absolute kings of colonization. We have set foot and abode on nearly every inch of this planet in some form or scope. And even if you argue that our grasp in some areas is tenuous, it certainly isn't due to lack of drive to colonize. We ARE wanderers and travelers, but to even consider something like interstellar travel is daunting to us. Is it so surprising that something which would restrict a human from traveling would also daunt another form of life?

It's not too much of a stretch to consider that our existance is every unique even without resorting to some sort of religious justification.

If it took our planet 4-5 billion years to produce 'us', and the universe is only 14 billion years old, we aren't dealing with much time for starting over. A single asteroid collission at the wrong time and the death of a human progenitor could very well mean 4 billion years of life development resulted in no intelligent life on Earth. It is not some sort of evolutionary goal.

Re:Fermi's paradox. (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 4 years ago | (#34065000)

All valid points. Also all speculation... just like my thoughts :) That is why I put the "Year 2100" out there. I would certainly think that if there is life to discover that we would have found it after a century of looking. This assumes we continue to grow in our capabilities at the astonishing rate we have seen over the past twenty-or-so years.

Re:Fermi's paradox. (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064968)

Fermi's Paradox bugs the hell out of me. I can't see how we are unique... but I also can't see why the evidence of other civilizations wouldn't be obvious.

The most simplest resolution to the Fermi paradox is... (drum roll)

We just happen to be first.

Or very close to be being first.

Once we (or someone close to us in the tech race) achieve inter-solar system space flight, it will be only a mater of time before the whole galaxy is colonized.

Now it might be likely that most species die off or choose not to do this, but it only takes one species to colonize everything over time.

Re:Fermi's paradox. (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 4 years ago | (#34065034)

In a galaxy that existed almost 10 billion years before the Earth cooled, I cannot imagine that we would be the first intelligence. The idea seems so preposterous as to not merit discussion.

(that doesn't mean it couldn't be right though )

Re:Fermi's paradox. (4, Insightful)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064542)

That would seem to make Fermi's paradox even more troubling. My bet is that abiogenesis is vanishingly improbable. It seems pretty reasonable to be fairly optimistic about every other term in Drake's equation.

We won't really know until we can detect earth mass planets, but from what I've been seeing, I believe that our planet is the equivalent of hitting the galactic jackpot.

Specifically, our huge moon. The impact that did that must of created a sort of 'second stirring', resulting in a climate different than that of Venus and Mars.

I have no problems believing that habitable planets are more than a thousand ly apart, much less habitable planets that develop sapient, tool using life forms. Right now, that's outside of our detection range. Even SETI has a range of only like 60ly, if I remember right.

Re:Fermi's paradox. --- Reapers, dude. (4, Funny)

BLToday (1777712) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064544)

Well, there's the Jungle Hypothesis, the Zoo Hypothesis, and I'm sure a few other ones. While lack of proof isn't proof, there's also the possibility that intelligent life in this part of the galaxy only started recently.

Or you know, Reapers.

Re:Fermi's paradox. --- Reapers, dude. (3, Insightful)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064818)

Apes or angels. If there is other sentient life out there the cosmological timescale makes it a high probability that most of it is either so primitive that it can't have an interplanetary impact of any kind, or so ludicrously advanced that it wouldn't give a rat's ass about a bunch of monkeys who are really impressed with how they can move things around by burning stuff. We're either going to be like a PhD looking at an ant hill or they are. Either way we're probably safe, unless we run into an adolescent god with a magnifying glass, like Trelane "The Squire of Gothos".

So that just means (1)

overshoot (39700) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064564)

Lots of room to terraform.

Since I'm doubtful that humans will go extrasolar as individuals, there wouldn't be any pre-existing biosphere to deal with.

Always assuming, of course, that intelligence is really the advantage that we like to believe. Current events lend some doubt to that.

Re:Fermi's paradox. (1)

zrbyte (1666979) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064594)

For me the exciting part is that, we can actually try to have a decent estimate for some of the terms in the Drake equation. A hint to the answer of just how improbable (or probable) abiogenesis is, may be found right here in our solar system. By searching for life on Mars, Europa, etc. Just another reason not to slash the NASA budget.

Re:Fermi's paradox. (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064600)

It seems pretty reasonable to be fairly optimistic about every other term in Drake's equation.

f = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop life at some point
fi = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life

I've always found these 2 to be the ones that I have trouble being optimistic about. Just because a planet CAN support life doesn't mean that it definately will. And just because life forms, it doesn't always develop intelligence (see Dinosaurs and Ancient Marine Reptiles).

We've only got ONE case study so far where this has occured, us. I have trouble believing these two have high probabilities.

Re:Fermi's paradox. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34064684)

That would seem to make Fermi's paradox even more troubling. My bet is that abiogenesis is vanishingly improbable. It seems pretty reasonable to be fairly optimistic about every other term in Drake's equation.

You could be right. The anthropic principle guarantees that we will find ourselves on one of the planets where evolution got going. Even if there is only one such planet in the observable universe, we're going to find ourselves on that planet.

On the other hand, if abiogenesis is vanishingly improbable doesn't that tell us something about when life would be expected to originate? If abiogenesis is probable we'd expect it to have happened as soon as the planet cooled off. If abiogenesis is improbable we'd expect it to happen somewhere on a normal distribution centered about half-way between the cool-off of the planet and now. Or half way between the cool-off and the latest time that life could have started in order to have time to evolve into us.

Life seems to have started within 100 million years of the Earth's surface becoming solid. Therefore my bet is that abiogenesis is probable.

Re:Fermi's paradox. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34064808)

OMFGcata

Law of Numerous Small (2, Funny)

Rockoon (1252108) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064404)

This just in: Smaller objects more common than larger ones.

Re:Law of Numerous Small (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34064646)

Only in Hollywood

Re:Law of Numerous Small (1)

Spectre (1685) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064892)

The small ones always claim to be bigger than they are, though.

Just ask any girl.

Nah, it's easy (2)

bhcompy (1877290) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064408)

Just use the EVE Gate

Re:Nah, it's easy (1)

AndrewNeo (979708) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064948)

How will we know the security status of the other side? I'm not jumping to nullsec!

Why do we assume we're unique? (1)

Shadow Wrought (586631) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064436)

I never did understand that. It seems far more likely that we're just average and not something special.

Like everyone else.

Re:Why do we assume we're unique? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34064530)

If we were just average, then aliens would be all over the neighborhood.

Re:Why do we assume we're unique? (1)

nizo (81281) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064640)

Except of course the simple fact that perhaps they are just like us, and are too timid to leave their own solar system?

Re:Why do we assume we're unique? (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064836)

Or extinct before we manage to even get the tech to leave.

We're not even building decent space stations. To me the priorities should be to build a space station that humans can live on "indefinitely". Not waste money on going to Mars.

When you have developed space stations on which people can live on indefinitely, you don't have to rush to Mars. In fact Mars becomes a lot less important economically. The asteroids would be more interesting- build space colonies from the asteroids. From that point you would be closer to having the tech and resources to leave the solar system.

Re:Why do we assume we're unique? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34064806)

Unique and special are two different things. Our planet's characteristics are probably quite unique.

Re:Why do we assume we're unique? (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064816)

We assume we're unique because we haven't found anything else like us. Does that make sense?

One circle of life existed 65 Million years ago for far longer than we have been alive and yet they didn't develop the intellect to construct anything. We look at the other parts of life around us that are just beginning to use tools - but they're still a long ways away from reaching where we were a million years ago.

Given that we've only been able to study these two sample cases, and both suggest that we're "above average" at the learning curve - we assume we're unique.

Re:Why do we assume we're unique? (1)

nizo (81281) | more than 4 years ago | (#34065042)

We look at the other parts of life around us that are just beginning to use tools...

Actually I would put forth that we are just really really good at killing anything that might even remotely be a (tool using) competitor. Take Neanderthals for example; they had cave art, tools, and bigger brains than us, and I'd guess that we are a big reason why they no longer exist.

Re:Why do we assume we're unique? (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064984)

You are correct. That would be a rash assumption.

However, the qualities of this planet that make it suitable for life aren't as simple as "well, look at it!"

The entire planet has gone through several phases of development (molten, crusty, wet, snowball, volcanic, tropical, tectonic, plus some not-so-planet-killer asteroid impacts) to shape what is now its ecology, and it's not showing any signs of being static yet.

So it would be egregiously inept, given this knowledge, to assume that other planets with sapient beings must exist.

However, the topic of the article is "habitable", not "populated with spacefaring aliens". But even then, "habitable" would have to mean "able to support generations of humans without terraforming or special adaptations." Still-suits or underground bunker homes, okay, because we do things like that to survive some terran conditions. But if you can't walk the surface and breathe the air and eat the agriculture grown in the open spaces, it's a no-go.

And here's a thing: plants like our planet because of the CO2 and the eons of humus. Which means you're going to need to find a planet that's already got a significant history of biomass (billions of years perhaps). And, as I said above, that isn't just a "well, look at it!" proposition, certainly not a "well, look at a few photons with particular spectra that bounced from it!" sort of thing.

at the core (1)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064442)

That's all well and good, but what are we going to do when the wavefront of gamma & x-rays from stars falling into the black hole at the center of the galaxy reaches us? Then what are we going to do?!!!

Re:at the core (1)

eleuthero (812560) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064606)

buy space folding technology from the puppeteers or the outsiders?

Re:at the core (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064994)

Make microwave popcorn without a microwave oven?

Define Haitable (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064452)

Habitable seems to be in the eye of the beholder. Does it mean if we dropped off a human on the surface, he would be able to breathe? Does it mean that it is roughly the right mass? The right mass and roughly the right temperature? Right mass, temperature and has an atmosphere? All the above and has bountiful liquid water?

I am very excited about our discoveries over the past decade or so. But it will be another before we can truly have a reasonable idea of how many planets are "habitable".

Re:Define Haitable (1)

Abstrackt (609015) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064650)

I assume that in this case, "habitable" means that it's within our technological means to survive there.

Getting there, on the other hand, is another matter entirely.

Re:Define Haitable (1)

nizo (81281) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064690)

Well, a surface that doesn't immediately kill us while we wear minimal life support apparatus would be a good start. Even if we can't breath the air, being able to wear regular clothing and no bulky gloves would be a big step up.

Re:Define Haitable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34064778)

Habitable seems to be in the eye of the beholder. Does it mean if we dropped off a human on the surface, he would be able to breathe? Does it mean that it is roughly the right mass? The right mass and roughly the right temperature? Right mass, temperature and has an atmosphere? All the above and has bountiful liquid water?

I am very excited about our discoveries over the past decade or so. But it will be another before we can truly have a reasonable idea of how many planets are "habitable".

Habitable for humans means ~1G constant gravity, a nitrogen rich atmosphere with a dash of oxygen, and an abundance of organic compounds. Or were you talking about for robots, which may be intelligently designed to inhabit much harsher environments?

... For various quantities of habitable (1)

enderjsv (1128541) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064454)

This reminds me of Geico commercials. "15 minutes could save you fifteen percent or more on car insurance." If you think about that sentence, it really doesn't say anything. The sentence would be true if 1 in 10,000 people who took 15 minutes to call Geico saved more than fifteen percent off their car insurance. I hate to be the cynical guy, but this really seems like a bit of a fluff story. The criteria for "potentially habitable" seems to pretty low, relying primarily on planet mass and distance from the sun. On the other hand, all it takes is the discovery of one earth-like planet to get me super excited, so maybe my cynicism is misplaced.

Re:... For various quantities of habitable (2, Funny)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064780)

This reminds me of Geico commercials. "15 minutes could save you fifteen percent or more on car insurance." If you think about that sentence, it really doesn't say anything. The sentence would be true if 1 in 10,000 people who took 15 minutes to call Geico saved more than fifteen percent off their car insurance.

My personal favorite example of such claims has always been "baked with real vegetables" on some snack crackers.

In no way does that imply that the vegetables are ingredients. Merely that they were baked with real vegetables. Throw a carrot in the oven, and the statement becomes true. ;-)

Re:... For various quantities of habitable (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064904)

"15 minutes could save you fifteen percent or more on car insurance."
The sentence would be true if 1 in 10,000 people who took 15 minutes to call Geico ...

The sentence is always true as the operative advertising word is "could".

Teh maths (4, Funny)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064466)

But using some statistics,

Uh oh...

How many sagans is that? (2, Funny)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064478)

...there may be billions of potentially habitable worlds in the galaxy.

How many sagans is that?

Re:How many sagans is that? (3, Informative)

cindyann (1916572) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064572)

5x10^-1sagans.

sudo mod me funny

Let's cut to the chase (1)

Infonaut (96956) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064490)

How do we get to the nearest planet inhabited by Orion women [wikipedia.org] ?

Re:Let's cut to the chase (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064562)

They'd turn you down too. Sorry.

and I may... (1)

M8e (1008767) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064492)

...have superpowers.

Does lactose tolerance count?

Re:and I may... (2, Informative)

eleuthero (812560) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064632)

...only if you're from an ethnic group that historically demonstrates lactose intolerance.

Pass The Joint ( +1, Helpful ) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34064496)

and inhale the marijuana [youtube.com] .

Yours In Osh,
Kilgore Trout

P.S.: Carl Sagan says "High !".

Re:Pass The Joint ( +1, Helpful ) (1)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064696)

P.S.: Carl Sagan says "High !".

It seems appropriate to hear from Zombie Sagan on Halloween weekend. Let's raise a bowl and toast his accomplishments.

If there are really billions of such planets ... (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064510)

Lets say there are billions of inhabited planets. Then they should be popping into a passing black hole or be blown away for an intergalactic highway project now and then. But I have never felt a disturbance as though millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. How come?

Re:If there are really billions of such planets .. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34064554)

Lets say there are billions of inhabited planets. Then they should be popping into a passing black hole or be blown away for an intergalactic highway project now and then. But I have never felt a disturbance as though millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. How come?

Because you are not a Jedi.

Re:If there are really billions of such planets .. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34064868)

Because you aren't a Jedi? I hate to break the news to you, but there you go.

Billions of Linuses (1)

Compaqt (1758360) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064516)

Trillions of Beowulf clusters ...

What a godawful headline... (4, Insightful)

ErikZ (55491) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064550)

The Galaxy May Have Billions of Habitable Planets

Or, you know, less than that.

Re:What a godawful headline... (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064834)

That is almost exactly what I came here to post. Until we identify a second body in the universe that supports life (whether in this solar system, or not and whether that life is there because we put it there or it came from some other source), it is premature to estimate how many planets in the galaxy are habitable.

But are their orbits stable? (1)

g01d4 (888748) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064620)

There was an interesting article about this here [americanscientist.org]

Theoretically I should be the greateest man alive. (1)

amanicdroid (1822516) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064624)

Now I just need to find some proof.

How big they are is only a portion of the equation (4, Insightful)

Last_Available_Usern (756093) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064644)

You can put an Earth-sized planet where Pluto is and that's not going to mean anything. Assuming they mean "habitable" from the perspective of humans, the appropriately-sized planet must also be at the sweet spot distance from the Sun for moderate temperatures, have a moon to stabilize rotation for normalized weather patterns, and also produce a strong enough magnetosphere to protect an atmosphere. This is completely ignoring a lot of other factors that come into play as well, but the bottom line is I think it's a little premature to start designating M-class planets.

Re:How big they are is only a portion of the equat (1)

demersus (1775064) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064970)

In addition to what you've said, it would also require at least one Saturn/Jupiter sized planet further out than itself to catch any large asteroids that may be coming it's way.

uhh... Cosmos anyone? (1)

Rooked_One (591287) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064662)

Am I the only one that remembers the episode where Sagan talks about this? You can apply all the stats and variables to this, but you can only get a general idea... We (in our lives) will probably never get to anywhere near 1% accuracy of how many habitable planets are out there. Its all theory.

Re:uhh... Cosmos anyone? (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064916)

Our children's children's children won't know, really (unless we find a copy of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy lying around). But the statistical estimate will continue to improve.

Re:uhh... Cosmos anyone? (1)

callmebill (1917294) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064934)

He also mentioned how advanced civilizations would quickly destroy themselves (e.g., here on earth in central america, italy, and globally today). Even with round-trip times of a couple hundred years, we'll probably be looking at artifacts from a dead civilisation.

Re:uhh... Cosmos anyone? (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 4 years ago | (#34065038)

1% accuracy?

This isn't even a single-order-of-magnitude accuracy guess.

but then again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34064688)

maybe there aren't any, seeing as all of this is pure speculation.

Simple plan (1)

chebucto (992517) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064702)

1) Launch purpose-built exoplanet-finding 'scope into space (like the Kepler or TPF)
2) Find lots of exoplanets
3) Narrow down list to the small rockey goldilocks-zone planets
4) Do some spectroscopy
5) Find the 1 or 2 best hopes in terms of proximity & life-formation
6) Launch a few probes with 100 or 200 year mission life to each of the good candidates
7) Wait 100 or 200 years
8) ???
9) Par-tay!

Re:Simple plan (1)

jpolonsk (739332) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064976)

Your time scale is off. It would be more like wait between 100K and 500K years before a probe reached the closest habitable planet.

AND !! AND !! And it may have just the one !! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34064788)

I said MAY !! POSSIBLE !! The TRUTH as FAR as ANY KNOWZ !!

Anyone else see something wrong with this? (1)

Anomalyx (1731404) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064792)

...they cannot detect planets smaller than 3 times the Earth’s mass.

...they can estimate from the trend that as many as 25% of sun-like stars have earth-mass planets orbiting them!

So they're inferring based on the planets that they haven't detected...

Heartbreak (1)

callmebill (1917294) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064850)

What's the point of identifying more than one extra-solar habitable planet? We've found that Gliese one or whatever it is, which is really nearby. So the next step is to work on means of getting there via ftl or tesseracts or enchanted broomsticks. Why devote resources to finding more places that are even harder to get to? I say we just sit and stream Netflix until someone distant world's Pioneer plaque lands on our front porch.

Re:Heartbreak (1)

callmebill (1917294) | more than 4 years ago | (#34065010)

Also, why don't we use these "OMG we could live on this planet if we could travel 30 gojillion megadistances" research dollars to work on something that is feasible within 1.5 generations. Moon and Mars are ready and willing.

Billions? (1)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064852)

If the universe is really infinite*, and if there is any nonzero percentage of planets which are habitable*, then there are infinitely many habitable planets by logical conclusion.

Until or unless we find one, and one that’s close enough to actually learn something useful from it... what difference does it make how many of them are theoretically out there?

*unproven/unknown

My favorite Star Trek episodes... (0, Flamebait)

GPLDAN (732269) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064860)

Kirk and Spock would visit a planet where a Starship captain had gone all Heart-of-Darkness/Colonel Kurtz and set himself up as a despot/tyrant on some planet and ditched his duties within Starfleet.


I think of those episodes, as I imagine a starship helmed by Sarah Palin and the type of civilization that would arise if you let her and a bunch of teabaggers colonize a new planet.

Pointless (1)

dontPanik (1296779) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064862)

This is such a stupid article. It doesn't take into account atmosphere or presence of water at all. The only data the the guy uses is that there happens to be one planet 20 light years away that is roughly the same size as Earth. That is the only data he uses to come to his conclusion. What a waste of time.

Yea Yea ... (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064866)

And I may have crabs, but I dont think it counts still I see stuff moving around

Strangely appropriate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34064870)

This month's RealLife [reallifecomics.com] webcomic story arc is strangely appropriate [reallifecomics.com] .

Billions and Billions (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064880)

This has been "known" for a long time. If I remember correctly, that's what Carl Sagan was talking about with his "billions and billions."

Paging Carl Sagan... (2, Insightful)

SiliconEntity (448450) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064922)

Shouldn't that be "billions and billions"?

I bet when we do find life it will not be exciting (1)

parallel_prankster (1455313) | more than 4 years ago | (#34064960)

We keep making this a huge deal, but somehow I feel that when we do find life in other planets somehow it will not be this interesting. It will be like finding a new crawling reptile in the Amazon. Besides, even if we do find signs of life in a planet light years away, how much will we be able to learn about them? Space travel hasnt really taken off, we dont even have cheap and reliable means of going to the moon!

Let me see if I'm following the math here... (4, Insightful)

Minwee (522556) | more than 4 years ago | (#34065006)

You take a number which you don't know very well, so you estimate it. Then multiply it by a factor which you really don't know, so you just guess that. Next you multiply the result by another number which you may never know, so you just pull that one out of /dev/random, and multiply them all together.

And wow, you get a result that you like! That's amazing!

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