NASA detects 300 million potentially habitable planets in the Milky Way

Another Earth? NASA suggests there could be 300 million'potentially habitable planets in Milky Way

Life in the Milky Way: around 300 million potentially habitable planets

Kepler's mission was originally earmarked to last 3.5 years but stringent use of fuel enabled it to remain operational for 9 years, 7 months and 23 days.

The planets are all rocky, similar in size to Earth and orbit in the "Goldilocks zone", not too far and not too close to sun-like stars, NASA said in a press release. Every star in the sky probably hosts at least one planet - meaning there are likely trillions of planets out there, of which we have only discovered and confirmed a few thousand.

But this simplified approach is no guarantee life will thrive and makes many assumptions, researchers acknowledge, so the astronomers cross-referenced this data with that of the ESA's Gaia telescope. But this time, scientists were able to factor temperature into their analysis, thanks to additional data gathered by the European Space Agency's Gaia mission, which is charting a three-dimensional map of our galaxy.

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The habitable zone is at a distance from a star, where it is neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist. "Gaia's data on stars allowed us to look at these planets and their stars in an entirely new way". It can also consider the energy emitted over a certain period of time in a certain area.

They also took into consideration each planet's distance from its star - too close and the heat could vaporize any water, too far and any water could freeze. It should be noted that a planet's atmosphere plays a significant role as it provides information on how much light is needed to allow liquid water on a planet's surface.

A conservative estimate sinks as low as seven per cent, whereas an optimistic valuation can go as high as 75 per cent.

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This result builds upon a long legacy of work of analyzing Kepler data to obtain an occurrence rate and sets the stage for future exoplanet observations informed by how common we now expect these rocky, potentially habitable worlds to be. "Surveys aimed at small, potentially habitable planets around Sun-like stars will depend on results like these to maximize their chance of success".

'As NASA's first planet-hunting mission, Kepler has wildly exceeded all our expectations and paved the way for our exploration and search for life in the solar system and beyond, ' said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

After revealing more than 2,800 confirmed planets outside our solar system, the data collected by the Kepler space telescope continues to yield important new discoveries about our place in the universe. Currently, NASA's TESS mission is the latest planet-hunter seeking out exoplanets.

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