If you thought we were the lone living beings in our galaxy, think again. Astronomers now believe that there could be more than 100 billion Earth-like planets that can support life and are habitable.
Scientists have discovered a new method for finding planets, which orbit their stars in the "habitable zone" and are at the right distance to be able to support life. However, these planets are a tad difficult to see, as they are tiny when compared to the star they orbit.
But now scientists at the University of Auckland proclaim that with the help of data from a NASA space telescope (Kepler Space Telescope), which is currently scanning the Milky Way for other planets with the help of microlensing technique, identifying these Earth-like smaller planets will become easier.
The Kepler telescope uses a ground-based microlensing technique that employs robotic telescopes to detect "tiny deflections in the light coming from stars as a small planet orbits them."
"Kepler finds Earth-sized planets that are quite close to parent stars, and it estimates that there are 17 billion such planets in the Milky Way. These planets are generally hotter than Earth. Our proposal is to measure the number of Earth-mass planets orbiting stars at distances typically twice the Sun-Earth distance. Our planets will therefore be cooler than the Earth," notes Dr. Phil Yock, , from the department of physics at the University of Auckland. "By interpolating between the Kepler and microlensing observation results, we should get a good estimate of the number of Earthlike, habitable planets in the Galaxy."
Yock also opined that the researchers "anticipate a number in the order of 100 billion."
So far, scientists have discovered nearly 860 planets (called exoplanets) outside our solar system; however, that number is on the rise.