Science

There could be up to 300 million potentially habitable planets in the Milky Way, suggests study

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on October 30, 2020 Published on October 30, 2020

Apart from analysing a planet’s distance from its star, the research also took into consideration how much light hits the planet from its star as this could impact the probability of the planet supporting liquid water

Researchers analysed data from various instruments, including the Kepler space telescope

Scientists have estimated that there could be as many as 300 million potentially habitable planets in the Milky Way.

The number is based on a research collaboration of scientists from NASA, the SETI Institute, and other organisations worldwide.

Researchers analysed data from various instruments, including the Kepler space telescope. The findings of the study will be published in The Astronomical Journal.

Also read: Researchers identify 24 potentially ‘superhabitable’ planets more than 100 light years away

“This is the first time that all of the pieces have been put together to provide a reliable measurement of the number of potentially habitable planets in the galaxy,” said co-author Jeff Coughlin, an exoplanet researcher at the SETI Institute and Director of Kepler’s Science Office. “This is a key term of the Drake Equation, used to estimate the number of communicable civilisations — we’re one step closer on the long road to finding out if we’re alone in the cosmos.”

“The Drake Equation is a probabilistic argument that details the factors to consider when estimating the potential number of technologically advanced civilisations in the galaxy that could be detected,” explained SETI in an official release.

Researchers analysed exoplanets similar in size to earth to form an estimate. Such planets are most likely to be rocky. Apart from this, scientists also took into consideration the “so-called Sun-like stars”. The exoplanets’ conditions in relation to supporting liquid water was also taken into consideration.

Also read: Some exoplanets can be made of diamonds, suggests study

Apart from analysing a planet’s distance from its star, the research also took into consideration how much light hits the planet from its star as this could impact the probability of the planet supporting liquid water.

To do this, the team also looked at data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission about how much energy the planet’s star emits.

“Knowing how common different kinds of planets are is extremely valuable for the design of upcoming exoplanet-finding missions,” said co-author Michelle Kunimoto, one of the researchers who recently joined the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Surveys aimed at small, potentially habitable planets around Sun-like stars will depend on results like these to maximise their chance of success.”

However, further research into the planets’ atmosphere is required.

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Published on October 30, 2020
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