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Astronomers Estimate Milky Way May Have 100 Billion Alien Worlds 294

Posted by samzenpus
from the that's-a-lot-of-away-missions dept.
astroengine writes "Last year, using the exoplanets discovered by the Kepler space telescope as a guide, astronomers took a statistical stab at estimating the number of exoplanets that exist in our galaxy. They came up with at least 50 billion alien worlds. Today, astronomers from the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Md., and the PLANET (Probing Lensing Anomalies NETwork) collaboration have taken their own stab at the 'galactic exo-planetary estimate' and think there are at least 100 billion worlds knocking around the Milky Way."
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Astronomers Estimate Milky Way May Have 100 Billion Alien Worlds

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  • Sweet (Score:5, Funny)

    by jhoegl (638955) on Wednesday January 11, 2012 @09:17PM (#38669640)
    Then statistically tell me which planet has Amazonian Women, hot green chicks, and Galactic Girls Gone Wild.
    No tentacle monsters though, they will take all our womens!
  • redundant (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 11, 2012 @09:19PM (#38669662)

    aren't all worlds, not our own, alien?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 11, 2012 @09:24PM (#38669678)

    Why couldn't I be born to a universe with a less restrictive set of physical laws?!

  • by DumbSwede (521261) <slashdotbin@hotmail.com> on Wednesday January 11, 2012 @09:31PM (#38669744) Journal
    100 Billion is likely too low. Based on a survey of close suns using Doppler shift indicated at least 50% had planetary systems of some sort. I think the future will boost this percentage to 90% or better, probably virtually all suns have some kind of orbiting object that could be termed a planet. Depending on where you draw the line on size this makes for probably more than 2 Trillion alien worlds in the Milky Way alone (which is estimated to have 200-400 billion suns).

    As for examining Kepler Objects of Interest (KOIs) more closely it seems there is little point to single them out. So what if we know they have planets -- everywhere you could point a radio dish there are planets. I am a big supporter of SETI and this is all good news for SETI, but it doesn't do anything to narrow the search.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It will narrow our search by telling us the properties of some of these planets. For instance, it would be nice to know where all the earth-like planets around sun-like stars are. That would certainly narrow the search, wouldn't it?

    • by Surt (22457) on Wednesday January 11, 2012 @10:58PM (#38670268) Homepage Journal

      It's acknowledged in the article that this is only for 'worlds' about 5x as big as earth and higher.
      The real number, counting everything that would count as a planet in our solar system, may be 5-10X as high.

  • Alien life in the universe that we could encounter, depending on the climactic conditions, gravity and atmosphere would be very different from humans to say the least. They would not be all humanoid races that speak english and can walk and act just like humans, they might be boneless creatures like an octopus or evolved dolphins that pilot ships full of water, or something that we have not even encountered yet. Dolphins show amazing intelligence so it is easy to imagine, that if they evolved over the course of millions of years on a remote planet and developed mathematics and science, they could invent space flight. Star Trek had humanoid aliens as standard, but the science fiction of Larry Niven envisaged quite different creatures such as the puppeteers.

    Not to forget the even stranger aliens in the book Sundiver [wikimedia.org] by David Brin. Discovery channel one time showed a Jupiter sized Earth like planet that had small creatures crawling along its surface that had to eat continually in order to have enough energy to move in the massive gravity. I am not sure if it is possible for such a large planet to form, most large planets that have been discovered are gas giants. But any alien planet we visited could have alien bacteria that we would not have a immunity to and it could be very dangerous if we brought it back to Earth. So any future space exploration would still require caution.

    • by c0lo (1497653) on Wednesday January 11, 2012 @10:00PM (#38669918)

      Alien life in the universe that we could encounter, depending on the climactic conditions, gravity and atmosphere would be very different from humans to say the least. They would not be all humanoid races that speak english and can walk and act just like humans, they might be boneless creatures like an octopus or evolved dolphins that pilot ships full of water, or [...].

      Ships full of water - multiply the difficulties to escape the gravity well by about 1000.
      Imagine developing metallurgy and special ceramics (I reckon these would be needed for at least propulsion) in/under water...

      • by mjwx (966435)

        Ships full of water - multiply the difficulties to escape the gravity well by about 1000.
        Imagine developing metallurgy and special ceramics (I reckon these would be needed for at least propulsion) in/under water...

        Who said the ship needs to be full of water. given many of the oceanic creatures on earth only the breathing apparatus needs to meet the creatures environmental requirements. Isn't it entirely possible to create a space suite for an aquatic organism in the same way we have pressure suits for humans?

        Your second point is much more interesting. I the best guesses I can come up with are either do it on land using machines (in the same way we use submersibles to work under the sea) or have an entirely differe

        • by nedlohs (1335013)

          I think the issue is how does this water creature develop fire and metal smelting in the first place (you know bronze and iron age level) - once they have technology working around it is easy, the tricky bit would be developing that technology in the first place.

          • by mjwx (966435) on Wednesday January 11, 2012 @10:55PM (#38670244)

            I think the issue is how does this water creature develop fire and metal smelting in the first place (you know bronze and iron age level) - once they have technology working around it is easy, the tricky bit would be developing that technology in the first place.

            You can create fire underwater, it's a different chemical process to on land.

            Besides, you dont need fire for smelting, you simply need heat and there are plenty of active underwater volcano's on earth as well as other heat sources.

            Needless to say, an aquatic civilisation would develop things in radically different ways to the way we have.

        • by c0lo (1497653)

          Ships full of water - multiply the difficulties to escape the gravity well by about 1000.

          Who said the ship needs to be full of water.

          The GP post did - straight copy/paste citation: ... they might be boneless creatures like an octopus or evolved dolphins that pilot ships full of water, or something that we have not even encountered yet

          given many of the oceanic creatures on earth only the breathing apparatus needs to meet the creatures environmental requirements.

          I really doubt it (the only part of it). E.g. reverse the situation and imagine yourself travelling for years in a complete suit that wouldn't allow you to clean you skin.

      • by danlip (737336)

        Plus the difficulty of developing technology if you don't have hands

      • And with fins instead of fingers
    • by MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) on Wednesday January 11, 2012 @10:29PM (#38670108)

      Alien life in the universe that we could encounter, depending on the climactic conditions, gravity and atmosphere would be very different from humans to say the least.

      Not proven until we meet one.

      They would not be all humanoid races that speak english....

      Star Trek did not portray this.

      Dolphins show amazing intelligence so it is easy to imagine..

      No, it is not easy to imagine. Dolphins lack the dexterity to build a space ship. We may find out that any given species rarely (if ever) reach space unless they meet certain other criteria like opposable thumbs and originate from a planet where it's easy to start a fire. We don't know what all is involved in inspiring a species to leave the planet, just that it likely requires a complex series of events.

      It's easy to jump to the conclusion that every planet that sports life will create a random space faring civilization species. However, to put things into a more realistic perspective, consider that this planet has created over a hundred million species of life and only one has intentionally gone into orbit.

      Star Trek had humanoid aliens as standard...

      No, they did not. The 'humanoid' races were explained by one species that seeded our area of the galaxy with similar genetic material. Elsewhere in the series, the Federation was accused of really only allowing humanoids to join.

      We just don't know.

      • Man, that [memory-alpha.org] episode sucked, but it was some brilliant meta-humor lampooning the anticlimactic ending of the episode.

        Basically, a guy dies, leaving clues to a big mystery. Piccard, as well as a Klingon crew and Cardassian crew are all in competition to independently solve this mystery, hoping for gold or secret mega-weapons.

        They all solve the mystery at once and meet at the same place where the secret is finally activated: It is a hologram of a proto-humanoid, describing(in English) how their race seed
        • by Grishnakh (216268) on Wednesday January 11, 2012 @11:29PM (#38670422)

          You do realize that only the humans in Star Trek spoke English, right? Everyone used universal translators to reduce communications problems. They just didn't portray it the way some other sci-fi has; for instance, in the movie Dune, in the first scene, when the Guild Navigator meets with the Emperor, his helpers speak first using a mechanical device that translates their language, and you can hear both. Star Trek just eliminates that for budget reasons and to avoid distracting viewers.

          Besides, 300+ years in the future it's quite possible we won't be speaking English at all, or it might be very different from what we speak now. With any sci-fi that's in English and set in the future, you might as well assume that all the dialog has been translated into modern English for the benefit of the reader. I believe the Dune series (set 10,000 years in the future) even explicitly says they use a different language, or several in fact, but the characters' dialog is still in modern English so that the author didn't have to invent a new language like Tolkein's Sindarin.

          • You do realize that only the humans in Star Trek spoke English, right?

            Well... humans and really nerdy Klingons.

    • by dbIII (701233)

      Alien life in the universe that we could encounter, depending on the climactic conditions, gravity and atmosphere would be very different from humans to say the least.

      My favourite example at the moment is Solaris (the book by Lem, not the new movie I've never seen or the old one I can't remember). In that example humanity has spent a lot of resources over a century trying to understand WTF is some connection between themselves and the alien/s and at that point even the human experts have trouble communicat

    • by netsavior (627338)
      The final season of Enterprise dealt primarily with the Xindi, one of the Xindi races (5 different sentient species on one planet) were spacefaring water creatures that weren't humanoid, and flew in ships filled with water, this fact was not particularly shocking or foreign to the captain of Enterprise, nor his highly experienced Vulcan crewmate. But also the Federation are a bunch of bigots who only let humanoids in anyway.
  • by SpaceLifeForm (228190) on Wednesday January 11, 2012 @09:42PM (#38669816)
    as having no intelligent life.
  • by chrism238 (657741) on Wednesday January 11, 2012 @09:45PM (#38669834)
    50 billion here, 100 billion there. Pretty soon you're talking big numbers.
  • Now where are the ruby worlds?
    • by mjwx (966435)

      Now where are the ruby worlds?

      Alpha Centauri is the closest, but we need to trade the locations of at least three rainbow worlds to afford the lander upgrades before I'll even consider landing on those worlds.

  • by Kittenman (971447) on Wednesday January 11, 2012 @09:58PM (#38669898)
    “Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living. Since the dawn of time, roughly a hundred billion human beings have walked the planet Earth.

    Now this is an interesting number, for by a curious coincidence there are approximately a hundred billion stars in our local universe, the Milky Way. So for every man who has ever lived, in this Universe there shines a star.

    But every one of those stars is a sun, often far more brilliant and glorious than the small, nearby star we call the Sun. And many--perhaps most--of those alien suns have planets circling them. So almost certainly there is enough land in the sky to give every member of the human species, back to the first ape-man, his own private, world-sized heaven--or hell.

    How many of those potential heavens and hells are now inhabited, and by what manner of creatures, we have no way of guessing; the very nearest is a million times farther away than Mars or Venus, those still remote goals of the next generation. But the barriers of distance are crumbling; one day we shall meet our equals, or our masters, among the stars. "

    • by dhavleak (912889)

      So for every man who has ever lived, in this Universe there shines a star.

      Not universe.. galaxy..

  • by iggymanz (596061) on Wednesday January 11, 2012 @10:01PM (#38669922)

    In a couple years kepler will have sufficient data so we can estimate the number of rocky worlds in habitable zones, that's what is most interesting to me. Once we find such worlds, we'd need to fund the type of probe that can analyze atmosphere, life as we know it does a very detectable transformation. Then step up our optical SETI efforts in those world's directions (they won't use radio waves, sorry microwave SETI dudes....)

  • I recently had the misfortune of meeting some extraterrestrial aliens from outer space right here on earth.

    I have not much time now, but I'll jot down what I can.

    They were very enthusiastic. They explained how wonderful it was to find a planet with the temperature and the water and the magnetic field and the life and the intelligence and the technology and ... advertising(!?) .

    They we're an ancient species, homeless since eons. They had been scouring space, looking for intelligent life that could scratch th

  • That's just the number of possible planets in our galaxy. If you take a rough estimate of galaxies we can see as 500 billion, in other words a galaxy for every star in the Milky Way, and those are just the ones we can see.

    Okay, 500 billion galaxies, 100 billion exoplanets per galaxy, which is probably conservative. I'm going to go out on a limb and say there's at least one other earth-like planet out there.

  • whatever (Score:3, Interesting)

    by milkmage (795746) on Wednesday January 11, 2012 @10:39PM (#38670166)

    everyone knows they'll ignore us until we have warp capability.

    2 weeks to the Moon?
    9 months to Mars? lol.

  • by Chas (5144) on Wednesday January 11, 2012 @11:11PM (#38670316) Homepage Journal

    Jeeze.

    Why not just call it what it is?

    An ass-pull number.

    • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @01:28AM (#38671026) Homepage
      Because it isn't. They've done some very careful estimating here. This works off a combination of modelig and empirical data. We know how many stars Kepler has looked at and what approximate fraction of the total set of stars in the galaxy that represents. For those stars, we have a pretty good idea of lower bounds of how many planets they have, and we know what sorts of planets are the sort that Kepler would have trouble detecting. We can look at that distribution and use it to get a rough estimate. No one is claiming that this number is precise. But the true number is likely not more than an order of magnitude or two off. This isn't an asspull. This is scientists working very carefully very difficult stuff on the cutting edge and doing their best with hard work and rigorous thinking to produce an estimate. This is what real science looks like.
    • by rubycodez (864176)
      no, not totally ass-pulled. kepler now lets us know that planets are common, and there is not even the pattern of rocky-inner gassy-outer like we have in the solar system, they can be mixed up. planets can be in habitable zone, but they are often the wrong size/type. there are now some hard real numbers to make estimates. We long have had have rough idea of sun like star percentage (5%), we have rough idea of earth-like planets in habitable zone percent of those (about 2%). Soon (a couple decades or I
  • by ArcadeNut (85398) on Wednesday January 11, 2012 @11:46PM (#38670526) Homepage

    100,000,000,001.

    Hope I win!

  • 640 Billion (Score:5, Funny)

    by flyingfsck (986395) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @12:44AM (#38670862)
    Well, 640 billion should be enough for anybody...
  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @01:31AM (#38671038)

    We have some data points on exoplanets... that's great and you can probably start estimating the numbers in the galaxy from that.

    Right now someone is trying to come up with a way to estimate life or even intelligent life or even star spanning civilizations. Don't do that until we have actual data... please... Drake's equation has done enough damage.

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