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Scientists Appeal To Congress To Support Technology To Search for Extraterrestrial Life

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candidate planetsGiven how many candidate planets Kepler has identified, and the recently announced estimate that billions of habitable planets may exist in the Milky Way alone, scientists are understandably excited about the prospect of finding alien life. They’re so excited, in fact, that they made a plea to Congress this week to embark on the next phase of searching for life.

Sara Seager, MIT’s exoplanet expert who came up with her own equation to express the probability of finding extra-terrestrial life, spoke at the “Astrobiology: The Search for Biosignatures in our Solar System and Beyond” hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology and argued that while we have some technology capable of detecting candidate planets and other life forms, we need more. “This is the first time in human history we have the technological reach to find life on other planets,” she said. “People will look back at us as the ones who found Earth-like worlds.” NASA’s head of astrobiology seconded that, saying that humans finally have the means to gather data about other life forms in the universe, which means it’s incumbent upon us to do so.

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Billions Of Potentially Habitable, Earth-Like Planets Could Exist In The Milky Way

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Milky WayAs you’ve probably heard by now (and definitely heard if you’re a regular GFR reader), the Kepler telescope’s (RIP) search for potentially habitable planets has been wildly successful. There are thousands of planets that might support life, but the bad news is that most of these are millions or billions of light years away, which means that in order for that to do us any good, we’d need to master manned interstellar travel, which is going to take us some time. But a recent discovery might change all that. Thanks to Kepler data, scientists have discovered that there are a bunch — possibly even billions — of Earth-like planets inside our own Milky Way.

The Milky Way has somewhere around 200 billion stars. Astronomers estimate that one in every five of these stars has at least one planet orbiting around it that is the right temperature to support the existence of liquid water on its surface, and thus, life. That’s at least 40 billion planets, and maybe far more. Of those 200 billion stars, roughly 40 billion are similar to the Sun, which means that those stars support at least 8 billion planets, and maybe more.