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Space Science

Milky Way Stuffed With an Estimated 50 Billion Alien Worlds 331

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-to-mention-nougat dept.
astroengine writes "Using data extrapolated from the early Kepler observations of 1,235 candidate exoplanets, mission scientists have placed an estimate on the number of alien worlds there are in our galaxy. There are thought to be 50 billion exoplanets, 500 million of which are probably orbiting within their stars' habitable zones."
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Milky Way Stuffed With an Estimated 50 Billion Alien Worlds

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  • Oblig. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 20, 2011 @03:35AM (#35258258)
    Might as well get it out of the way in the first post: http://xkcd.com/605/ [xkcd.com]
  • Re:5 x 10^19 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wierd_w (1375923) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @03:49AM (#35258308)

    however, the number of known civilizations (planet wise) is still 1, out of the 1,235. This makes a rather large dent in the computational threshold potential for Drake's famous equasion.

    While there might be lots of dirtballs, and even more planets in need of a collossally sized gas-x pill, the number of potentially habitable is small, and of those the number that would be reasonably extrapolated to contain life would be even smaller, and the number with active civilizations even smaller still.

       

  • by Seumas (6865) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @03:52AM (#35258318)

    My mother was barely a high school girl when we landed on the moon and since the last time we stepped foot on something other than the earth, she had children who grew to be old enough to have children who were as old as she was, then. We keep cutting budgets, because "we don't need all that there space sci-fi mumbo-jumbo when they can't even fix the potholes in front of mah damn house durr durr durr!". We talk about grand attempts to Mars, which we then never fund or push forward after having fancy press conferences about it. Then we do the same with plans to . . . go back to the moon.

    I suppose an optimistic way to look at it is that while we may see no advances in exploration in the near future, we do continue to increase technology which will in turn make future exploration even more successful. Sort of the way you could set a computer to cracking an encryption today that could do it in a few hours, while if you had started cracking that encryption in 1980 and let that computer keep running, it still wouldn't have completed the calculations, today. Still, that doesn't put one at ease over the general lack of ambition. Not to mention the amount that the last major space effort contributed to the technological advances that we have today and are now counting on continuing to advance at a rate so as to re-jumpstart the space exploration.

    I think it's safe to resign ourselves to little more happening in our lives. Our best hope is that while the likes of Carmack are building low orbit space planes and the likes of Richard Branson are building low orbit space hotels (which, let's recognize, are going to be nothing more than crammed little pods for decades to come), they somehow stumble into a viable commercial reason to explore some space out there. Otherwise, we're generations away from much more than sending RC cars to the surface of Mars, again.

  • by symbolset (646467) * on Sunday February 20, 2011 @03:55AM (#35258328) Homepage Journal
    If presented with evidence he denies it, he is an idiot. If he only says "idunno", then he is only a fool.
  • Re:5 x 10^19 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Rei (128717) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @04:16AM (#35258396) Homepage

    I must have missed when they probed those 1,235 planets for evidence of civilization and declared that they were able to rule it out.

  • by toejam13 (958243) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @04:16AM (#35258398)
    I've read in a few places that we may be one of the first around. Supposedly, heavy elements only came into abundant quantity around ten billion years ago. A much earlier universe couldn't have made our solar system. OTOH, it would be an utter mindfuck to confirm that there is other life out there. Even moreso if it was intelligent. But it would be equally amazing if it turns out that we're the only ones because we came first.
  • by Palmsie (1550787) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @04:28AM (#35258430)

    It is my understanding that the drake equation wasn't meant to be a predictive tool for calculating the exact or even closely approximate amount of planets that harbor intelligent life. Rather, it was simply supposed to be a means to illuminate the incredibly likely event that intelligent life could possibly exist, given a big enough universe, under incredibly conservative and unstable estimates.

  • Re:Oblig. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hairyfeet (841228) <{bassbeast1968} {at} {gmail.com}> on Sunday February 20, 2011 @04:51AM (#35258468) Journal

    Not to mention this whole "habitable zone" thing is a load of crap IMHO. I mean what are the odds that some alien race is gonna come out just like us and therefor need the exact same conditions as us? We have already detected the possibility of liquid water on Europa IIRC, and that is pretty damned far from the "habitable zone" so who is to say there aren't plenty of creatures living on worlds farther out?

    We have no idea what kind of gravity or other conditions may exist there so until/unless we find a way to actually get out there and look their guesses are about as useful as throwing a dart at a dartboard. hell on our own planet we have things living in conditions that would kill us instantly, things that live in unbelievable depths, things that live on methane, etc, so any guesses right now will probably be as worthless as primitive man trying to guess how the world worked.

  • by jcwayne (995747) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @05:17AM (#35258540) Homepage

    In practical terms that's not really meaningful. Considering the timescale involved, you're probably dealing with a margin of error of +/- 1 billion years. Then consider that the speed of evolution, in all its forms (i.e. planetary, geological, biological, societal, and technological), is influenced by an incalculable number of interrelated factors. So, in reality, being "one of the first" could mean that we're several billion years behind some and ahead of others.

  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @07:28AM (#35258942) Journal

    Lost in time. Lets say all those 500 million planets are earth like. That means they got a lifespan of a mere 10 billion years (earth is 4.5 billion old and got about 5 billion years left). On this planet (as far as we know) there has been one species influential enough to possibly be noticed in space or indeed notice space itself. For a grant total of just over a hundred years. In 10 billion. We have no way of knowing how long civilizations such as ours manage to survive. But even if you make it a thousand years, it still the shortest of blips on the time line of our planet.

    Even if you account for that the fact that our planet wasn't always habitable during its life, it is still a VERY wide window in which to look. We could look at every single habitable planet and just never ever be looking at the right time to see life.

    Every single planet could spawn life within its own lifespan and we still would never ever know about it. There are places in our own solar system that have possibly supported life and some still might, and we don't know for certain (yet) because we can't look for it yet.

    I can not see a dinosaur, nor a dodo or an elephant bird or countless other forms of lifes which we know to have excisted, merely because time gets in the way. Space got far more time. We are not alone, just lost in a sea of time.

  • Re:78 million (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jason Levine (196982) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @09:35AM (#35259370)

    The two big problems are time and distance. For us to detect an alien civilization, they've had to have developed radio techology. They also need to have not progressed beyond radio. We're already moving to cabled systems instead of radio broadcasts. To an alien civilization trying to detect us, we'd be getting fainter and fainter. So there's a short window of time in which we could detect alien broadcasts.

    In addition, space is big. (Insert Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy quote here.) If an alien civilization is 10,000 light years away from us and developed radio technology 5,000 years ago, we wouldn't detect their broadcasts for another 5,000 years. The radio waves would have a huge amount of space to cover before reaching us.

    Finally, considering time on our side, we've only been listening for a short period of time. If that hypothetical alien civilization 10,000 light years away developed radio technology 12,000 years ago and moved past the technology 11,000 years ago, the last alien broadcasts would have moved past the Earth in the early 1900's. They would have swept right past us without us knowing at all.

  • by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @07:21PM (#35262856) Homepage Journal
    Wow, way to be a downer. Did you stop to consider the possibility that, in every 1/100 of these habitable planets, there could actually be thriving, intelligent space faring civilizations that are either

    A) So advanced in technology that we simply do not possess the means to recognize them as being a civilization.
    B) So far away that their communication signals have simply become too weak and/or distorted to be recognized by the time they reach us.
    C) So far removed in time (evolved to spacefaring, lasted for thousands of years, and still died off before we stopped throwing rocks at each other) that we simply missed the evidence that they existed.
    D) Or, finally, so far ahead of us in terms of cultural maturity that they have, thus far, decided to hide themselves from our view until a later time when we can accept them as a civilization?

    There are 1,001 reasons that there could be advanced, sustaining, prolonged civilizations which exist in our galaxy, but which are still undetectable by our current means. When it comes right down to it, the only way we are really going to determine if there are advanced spacefaring species in our galaxy is by becoming one ourselves, and going out and looking with the level of technology required to become a spacefaring species. So don't give up hope and go slit your wrists just yet. There is absolutely no reason to assume that we will fail in our endeavors in space. Thus far, humanity has a great track record at achieving that which was once thought impossible, even if those journeys all had their minor setbacks.

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