Study: Milky Way may harbor ‘billions’ of potentially habitable planets

By Stephen C. Webster
Wednesday, March 28, 2012 12:49 EDT
google plus icon
Planet Earth, pictured from space. Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.
  • Print Friendly and PDF
  • Email this page

A study published this week suggests that there may be “tens of billions” of planets in the Milky Way galaxy that fall within what scientists call “the Goldilocks zone,” where the conditions for spawning life are thought to exist.

Working with a relatively new technology called the HARPS spectrograph, located at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, scientists said that a survey of red dwarf stars in the Milky Way found that approximately 40 percent had planets orbiting within the Goldilocks zone. They also estimate there are about 160 billion red dwarf stars in our galaxy.

So far, just nine planets within this zone have actually been detected, but extrapolations from the survey indicate that planets falling under this criteria may be exceedingly common throughout the galaxy. And about 100 are within earth’s cosmic neighborhood, they said.

“Now that we know that there are many super-Earths around nearby red dwarfs, we need to identify more of them using both HARPS and future instruments,” Xavier Delfosse, a researcher with the Observatoire des Sciences de l’Univers de Grenoble in France, told Space.com editor Clara Moskowitz. “Some of these planets are expected to pass in front of their parent star as they orbit — this will open up the exciting possibility of studying the planet’s atmosphere and searching for signs of life.”

This video was published to YouTube by NASAtelevision on Sept. 29, 2010.

Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
By commenting, you agree to our terms of service
and to abide by our commenting policy.