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6 billion planets like Earth? Scientists make stunning estimate

Astronomers propose new estimate of Earth-like planets in the Milky Way galaxy.

Kepler space telescope.

Credit: NASA/Ames Research Center/W. Stenzel/D. Rutter
  • Astronomers make new analysis based on data from NASA's Kepler space telescope.
  • The researchers estimate there may be as many as six billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy alone.
  • The scientists looked for planets that would be able to host life.

Maybe you think one Earth is enough. But what if there were billions? Researchers make a new estimate that the number of Earth-like planets in our Milky Way galaxy can reach us high as 6 billion.

Astronomers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) analyzed data from NASA's Kepler mission to reach the stunning conclusion. The information on 200,000 stars was gathered by the Kepler planet-hunting spacecraft from 2009 to 2018.

The criteria used by the scientists for selecting such a planet maintained it had to be rocky, about the same size as Earth, and orbiting a star like our Sun. This planet also had to be in the habitable zone of its star, where the conditions would be just right to potentially allow for water and life.

UBC researcher Michelle Kunimoto, who co-authored the new study, and previously discovered 17 new planets ("exoplanets") outside our Solar System, said their calculations "place an upper limit of 0.18 Earth-like planets per G-type star." In other words, that's about 5 planets per Sun.

The study's co-author UBC astronomer Jaymie Matthews put this from another perspective, explaining that "Our Milky Way has as many as 400 billion stars, with seven per cent of them being G-type. That means less than six billion stars may have Earth-like planets in our Galaxy."

To conduct the study, Kunimoto utilized a technique known as 'forward modelling,' which allowed her to overcome the issue that Earth-like planets are hard to spot on account of being small and orbiting far from their star.

Legacy of NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope

"I started by simulating the full population of exoplanets around the stars Kepler searched," expounded the researcher in UBC's press release. "I marked each planet as 'detected' or 'missed' depending on how likely it was my planet search algorithm would have found them. Then, I compared the detected planets to my actual catalogue of planets. If the simulation produced a close match, then the initial population was likely a good representation of the actual population of planets orbiting those stars."

While the scientists came up with an impressive number of possible Earths, this likely doesn't mean that's how many such planets there are and if they would have life like ours. But this new estimate definitely expands the possibility that similar planets are out there.

Check out the new study in The Astronomical Journal.


The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
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10 of the best new games according to geniuses at Mensa

Kick off your next game night with these Mensa-recommended board and card games.

Photo by Robert Coelho on Unsplash
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  • Mensa members judge an annual competition to determine which games are the best on the market.
  • Hundreds of board, card, and party games are considered each year but only a select few can win.
  • These 10 top games are available to purchase and play right now.
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Creativity: The science behind the madness

Human brains evolved for creativity. We just have to learn how to access it.

Creativity: The science behind the madness | Rainn Wilson, David Eagleman, Scott ...
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  • An all-star cast of Big Thinkers—actors Rainn Wilson and Ethan Hawke; composer Anthony Brandt; neuroscientists David Eagleman, Wendy Suzuki, and Beau Lotto; and psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman—share how they define creativity and explain how our brains uniquely evolved for the phenomenon.
  • According to Eagleman, during evolution there was an increase in space between our brain's input and output that allows information more time to percolate. We also grew a larger prefrontal cortex which "allows us to simulate what ifs, to separate ourselves from our location in space and time and think about possibilities."
  • Scott Barry Kaufman details 3 brain networks involved in creative thinking, and Wendy Suzuki busts the famous left-brain, right-brain myth.

Dinosaur bone? Meteorite? These men's wedding bands are a real break from boredom.

Manly Bands wanted to improve on mens' wedding bands. Mission accomplished.

Sex & Relationships
  • Manly Bands was founded in 2016 to provide better options and customer service in men's wedding bands.
  • Unique materials include antler, dinosaur bones, meteorite, tungsten, and whiskey barrels.
  • The company donates a portion of profits to charity every month.
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Politics & Current Affairs

How #Unity2020 plans to end the two-party system, bring back Andrew Yang

The proposal calls for the American public to draft two candidates to lead the executive branch: one from the center-left, the other from the center-right.

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