You are not alone: Scientists estimate 60 billion planets might support alien life

By Randell Suba , Jul 03, 2013 10:28 AM EDT

"You are not alone," said General Zod in the latest Superman movie flick Man of Steel. That claim might really be applicable in real life as a new study suggests that the Milky Way alone might have around 60 billion planets that may be good to support life.

The number of possible habitable alien worlds have doubled than what was previously known. Scientists considered cloud cover that may make life feasible in exoplanets orbiting red dwarf stars in the solar system. Red dwarfs are smaller and less massive stars compared to the sun and planets revolving around them need to be close enough so it can get enough hit so their surface will not freeze.

"Clouds cause warming, and they cause cooling on Earth. They reflect sunlight to cool things off, and they absorb infrared radiation from the surface to make a greenhouse effect. That's part of what keeps the planet warm enough to sustain life," Dorian Abbot, a professor in geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago, told the online journal Science.

"If you're orbiting around a low-mass or dwarf star, you have to orbit about once a month, once every two months to receive the same amount of sunlight that we receive from the sun," expounded Nicolas Cowan, one of the authors of the study and a fellow for postdoctoral program at Northwestern University.

The researchers from the Northwestern University and the University of Chicago used computer simulations to recalculate the number of potential Earth-like planets.

Planets in the so called habitable zone are not too close and not too far from their stars. This setup increases the possibility of having liquid water that makes life possible on the surface. The clouds on these potentially life-supporting planets stay on the side that faces its star, in a way helping reflect heat and light to prevent the temperature of the planet in check.

The reflected cloud covering on these alien planets can help scientists detect the possibility of liquid water on their surface. According to the authors of the study, the findings of the research can be proven using the James Webb Telescope that is set to go in orbit by 2018.

The results of the study can be found in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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