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Space Science

The Galaxy May Have Billions of Habitable Planets 380

The Bad Astronomer writes "A recent astronomical report (abstract in Science) came out stating that as many as 1 in 4 sun-like stars have roughly earth-mass planets. But are they habitable? A simple bit of math based on some decent assumptions shows that there may be billions of potentially habitable worlds in the galaxy. '... astronomers studied 166 stars within 80 light years of Earth, and did a survey of the planets they found orbiting them. What they found is that about 1.5% of the stars have Jupiter-mass planets, 6% have Neptune-mass ones, and about 12% have planets from 3 – 10 times the Earth’s mass. This sample isn’t complete, and they cannot detect planets smaller than 3 times the Earth’s mass. But using some statistics, they can estimate from the trend that as many as 25% of sun-like stars have earth-mass planets orbiting them!' Getting to them, of course, is another problem altogether..."
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The Galaxy May Have Billions of Habitable Planets

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  • by jpolonsk ( 739332 ) on Friday October 29, 2010 @12:56PM (#34064356)
    It's great that we could expand to many different planets. The leap between the Moon, Mars and an extra solar planet is so enormous though that the only thing this tells us is that we may be able to more closely identify where we should listen to for signals.
  • NASA (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ChrisBader ( 1232968 ) on Friday October 29, 2010 @12:56PM (#34064358)
    Yet another reason not to cut NASA's budget
  • Fermi's paradox. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Friday October 29, 2010 @01:00PM (#34064402) Journal

    That would seem to make Fermi's paradox even more troubling. My bet is that abiogenesis is vanishingly improbable. It seems pretty reasonable to be fairly optimistic about every other term in Drake's equation.

  • Re:NASA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zero.kalvin ( 1231372 ) on Friday October 29, 2010 @01:01PM (#34064432)
    That what bothers me the most. The trend around the world is to cut money where there is no immediate return, everyone wants a quick buck. A nation's future is in the investment they put in research and science. But who am i to be listened to, when big corps have a hold on all the elected officials ?
  • by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Friday October 29, 2010 @01:08PM (#34064542) Homepage Journal

    That would seem to make Fermi's paradox even more troubling. My bet is that abiogenesis is vanishingly improbable. It seems pretty reasonable to be fairly optimistic about every other term in Drake's equation.

    We won't really know until we can detect earth mass planets, but from what I've been seeing, I believe that our planet is the equivalent of hitting the galactic jackpot.

    Specifically, our huge moon. The impact that did that must of created a sort of 'second stirring', resulting in a climate different than that of Venus and Mars.

    I have no problems believing that habitable planets are more than a thousand ly apart, much less habitable planets that develop sapient, tool using life forms. Right now, that's outside of our detection range. Even SETI has a range of only like 60ly, if I remember right.

  • by ErikZ ( 55491 ) * on Friday October 29, 2010 @01:08PM (#34064550)

    The Galaxy May Have Billions of Habitable Planets

    Or, you know, less than that.

  • by Last_Available_Usern ( 756093 ) on Friday October 29, 2010 @01:14PM (#34064644)
    You can put an Earth-sized planet where Pluto is and that's not going to mean anything. Assuming they mean "habitable" from the perspective of humans, the appropriately-sized planet must also be at the sweet spot distance from the Sun for moderate temperatures, have a moon to stabilize rotation for normalized weather patterns, and also produce a strong enough magnetosphere to protect an atmosphere. This is completely ignoring a lot of other factors that come into play as well, but the bottom line is I think it's a little premature to start designating M-class planets.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 29, 2010 @01:14PM (#34064656)

    Hey, maybe we should just stay here, you know, in case other life develops there? Try to control your greed and consumerist colonial tendencies for a second and reflect upon the fact that *we* wouldn't be here if some other species had been able to colonize Earth eons ago.

  • by ElectricTurtle ( 1171201 ) on Friday October 29, 2010 @01:24PM (#34064818)
    Apes or angels. If there is other sentient life out there the cosmological timescale makes it a high probability that most of it is either so primitive that it can't have an interplanetary impact of any kind, or so ludicrously advanced that it wouldn't give a rat's ass about a bunch of monkeys who are really impressed with how they can move things around by burning stuff. We're either going to be like a PhD looking at an ant hill or they are. Either way we're probably safe, unless we run into an adolescent god with a magnifying glass, like Trelane "The Squire of Gothos".
  • Re:NASA (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Darth Snowshoe ( 1434515 ) on Friday October 29, 2010 @01:25PM (#34064832)

    Private spaceflight has a lot of inducement to figure out how to get stuff into earth orbit, and not very much at all to go anywhere beyond that. Trust me, I know NASA people, scientists and non-scientists. They are not pointless bureaucrats. They really want to go to the stars.

  • by IndustrialComplex ( 975015 ) on Friday October 29, 2010 @01:27PM (#34064856)

    I wonder what happens if we continue to expand our knowledge about exoplanets at the current rate but we don't discover life on another planet by the year 2100. Fermi's Paradox bugs the hell out of me. I can't see how we are unique... but I also can't see why the evidence of other civilizations wouldn't be obvious.

    There are loads of reasons.

    1. How long did it take for US to come about? That's a fairly long period of time for a planet to remain habitable. Cut that time down, and you drastically reduce the chance that something like 'us' will come about.

    2. What good is intelligence to life? To us, it is necessary, to life? Not really. Algae and bacteria do just fine (and bacteria in some sense can be considered immortal!) Life COULD be plentiful, and intelligent life could well be so rare that it is unique.

    3. Consider what we are able to see. We can basically see forms of electromagnetic radiation. That's not too useful for picking out little bits of information that would clue us in to someone else sending out information. Our emmanations are already decreasing (if considered per-capita) We can get more done with less power via directional antennas, better electronics, and now, fiber and direct access communications. We might just not see them.

    4. Interstellar travel cost compared to opportunity is well... astronomical. Barring imaginary physics, the only point to go to another planet/star is to colonize it.

    Think about it, we human beings are the absolute kings of colonization. We have set foot and abode on nearly every inch of this planet in some form or scope. And even if you argue that our grasp in some areas is tenuous, it certainly isn't due to lack of drive to colonize. We ARE wanderers and travelers, but to even consider something like interstellar travel is daunting to us. Is it so surprising that something which would restrict a human from traveling would also daunt another form of life?

    It's not too much of a stretch to consider that our existance is every unique even without resorting to some sort of religious justification.

    If it took our planet 4-5 billion years to produce 'us', and the universe is only 14 billion years old, we aren't dealing with much time for starting over. A single asteroid collission at the wrong time and the death of a human progenitor could very well mean 4 billion years of life development resulted in no intelligent life on Earth. It is not some sort of evolutionary goal.

  • by SiliconEntity ( 448450 ) on Friday October 29, 2010 @01:31PM (#34064922)

    Shouldn't that be "billions and billions"?

  • Re:NASA (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Friday October 29, 2010 @01:35PM (#34064982)
    They may "really want to go to the stars" but it isn't going to happen with a government program. Government programs are /always/ plagued by waste and inefficiencies. The only reason why they can sometimes get things done is because they have infinite money from stealing from taxpayers. I guarantee you if you gave private spaceflight the information and the like that NASA has and a budget that they could get stuff done faster and more efficiently than NASA could. The only reasons why we don't have private spaceflight to the moon is because A) The taxpayer-funded R&D from various missions is not available to them B) Lack of initial capital C) Government restrictions.
  • by Minwee ( 522556 ) <> on Friday October 29, 2010 @01:37PM (#34065006) Homepage

    You take a number which you don't know very well, so you estimate it. Then multiply it by a factor which you really don't know, so you just guess that. Next you multiply the result by another number which you may never know, so you just pull that one out of /dev/random, and multiply them all together.

    And wow, you get a result that you like! That's amazing!

  • Re:NASA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jokermatt999 ( 1536127 ) on Friday October 29, 2010 @01:49PM (#34065168)
    Do you have any numbers to support this? Although government programs generally are horribly inefficient, do you have any actual data indicating that NASA is just as bad? You seem to be relying on the assumption that government programs are always wasteful inefficient messes to the nth degree. Private spaceflight seems like an interesting idea, and I know there are several companies already working towards it, but reaching another star is a long, long, long term investment. It seems to me that government funding is actually useful in cases where there is no immediate return for the investors. Otherwise, you're essentially relying on philanthropy, no?
  • Re:NASA (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ByOhTek ( 1181381 ) on Friday October 29, 2010 @01:56PM (#34065260) Journal

    Wow... I wish I could be indoctrinated so to have that kind of confidence.

    Governments DO NOT have infinite money. They have a lot, but it is certianly not infinite.

    And, while the government is usually inefficient, it is not always so. Likewise, businesses can be inefficient and still stay in business, depending on the competitive situation.

    As far as A goes - it wouldn't stop corporate America or any other first world countries corporations, they could do the research on their own. Or are you suggesting there is something useful that the US government/NASA did, that corporate America can't? Maybe you are a fan of corporate welfare - lots of giving to those poor starving CEOs who can't afford to have caviar for more than two meals and a snack a day?

    For B... Capital is NOT a problem with corporate America, demonstration of profit is. They won't get that demonstration unless things here on the earth are seriously in the shitter (and it is too late), or the government finds the evidence first. Once something has a reasonable chance of profit, it will get investments.

    For C... That's actually a good point. Corporate America is superb at getting past inconvenient government restrictions... However it would be hard to hide anything space related, I suspect.

  • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Friday October 29, 2010 @01:59PM (#34065280)

    It seems pretty reasonable to be fairly optimistic about every other term in Drake's equation.

    Actually, there's one other you can be pessimistic about, and it has pretty depressing implications for us: the fraction of technological societies that get off-planet. Two big humps here:

    Agression: Any species that fights its way to intelligence and technological dominance of its planet will be about as aggressive as we are. A species that is not good at stepping over what's in its way to get the resources necessary for survival is a species that doesn't survive. This raises the question: can a dominant technological species avoid destroying itself with the advanced weaponry it develops (or even inadvertently by triggering an ecological collapse) before it gets off-planet? The jury is still out on whether we'll manage that...

    The Lotus-Eater Problem: About the time a dominant technological species starts to develop the necessary skills to get off-planet, it likely also start to develop the skills necessary to create *really good* simulations of reality that are "just like the real thing." Can a culture avoid the lure of just abandoning themselves in fantasies which can be made more exciting and fulfilling than anything in the real world?

  • Re:NASA (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 29, 2010 @02:03PM (#34065318)

    Actually that's bullshit. Private companies don't do anything without a near term profit. Without NASA we would not be in space today. Period. Why? No perceived profit in the short term. Some projects requre the resources of a government to achieve. Private companies will contine to advance space flight now that NASA started it in the first place BUT it will be to put hotels in space, more TV channels in orbit and billboards on the moon, not to do research or advance knowledge in any way. Private companies have a role to play but breaking new (and not immediately profitable) ground will always be done by publicly funded research. That may be NASA or it may be some other as yet unformed agency but without that type of funded research we face a future of rich people in orbiting hotels and McDonnald's flashing from the surface of the moon.

  • Re:NASA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Unordained ( 262962 ) <> on Friday October 29, 2010 @02:05PM (#34065364)

    Government programs are /always/ plagued by waste and inefficiencies.

    a) Private, commercial ventures are also always plagued by waste and inefficiencies. Humans are involved. You get what you get.
    b) Just because there's waste doesn't mean it's 95% waste. That's like saying that because lightbulbs emit both heat and light, they're incapable of ever illuminating anything.
    c) Grandiose statements like this one, common on the right, are faith-based attacks. It's common sense. Everyone knows governments waste. Everyone knows governments are nothing but wasteful bureaucracies. It's obvious. Duh. The only good government is a tiny one. But not nonexistent, as that might be seen as disparaging the founding fathers.

    The underlying assumption is that you can only trust someone who wants to take your money for his own profit, because anything else is too good to be true. But not too much profit. So you can only trust someone who wants to take your money for his own profit in a suitably competitive market. You only trust greedy people. And then ...

    The only reason why they can sometimes get things done is because they have infinite money from stealing from taxpayers.

    d) No. They're not stealing. We're pooling our moneys to achieve a common goal, as we've agreed to do, through the system of laws we've previously agreed to. If you don't like it, go live in France. (I can say this because I got tired of being told to live in France when I bitched about our new motherland security overlords after 9/11.)

    Government restrictions.

    e) That's what it *does*. That is the function of government. All freedoms not taken away, we keep. You're complaining that they're doing their job? If not, we need to know the specific restrictions you disagree with; honestly, I trust them to have a better idea of what restrictions we need than I trust you. They have thousands of people looking at what can go wrong when some private individual decides it's perfectly safe to shoot a rocket off from his back yard to go colonize Mars. And those thousands of people? They're just private citizens, like you and me, raised in the same country, under the same flag, learning the same constitution, going to the same backyard BBQ's. They love freedom too. Freedom not to be blown up because of their neighbor's stupid belief that freedom only means something when they can be perfectly reckless.

  • Re:NASA (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lul_wat ( 1623489 ) on Friday October 29, 2010 @02:18PM (#34065556)

    A) The taxpayer-funded R&D from various missions is not available to them

    Why should taxpayer-funded R&D be given to a private company?

  • by WrongMonkey ( 1027334 ) on Friday October 29, 2010 @02:55PM (#34066038)
    Having a large gas giant to shield the Earth from excessive meteors is thought to be a major factor in the habitability of Earth. So even if we take those numbers at face value and assume that 25% of solar systems have an Earth-like planet, only those that have a Jupiter-like planet (1.5%) are candidates for life. Further assuming those two are independant variables, that drops the odds of finding life down to .375% without even accounting for other contributing factors like having liquid water or a significant moon.
  • by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Friday October 29, 2010 @03:32PM (#34066550) Homepage Journal

    given the choice to expand out into a entire planet I doubt there would be any society that would turn it down.

    Oh, I agree with that. It seems like an easy decision for the final 3 or 4 generations ("We're almost there! Keep going!" and "Yippee, we're here!"). But a few dozen generations before that? I can imagine people saying, "Why spend our energy on the acceleration/deceleration rockets? Let's pump it into the holodeck instead."

  • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Friday October 29, 2010 @04:09PM (#34067136)

    Who said anything about it still working? The issue was about the energy requirements for getting objects to other star systems, not within any particular timeframe. Voyager will almost certainly survive until it reaches another star system; maybe not with any power, but it'll be an intact object (there aren't a lot of other objects floating around in interstellar space for it to collide with).

  • by Raenex ( 947668 ) on Friday October 29, 2010 @04:47PM (#34067792)

    Many of them would not need to know they're on a spacecraft. But some staff should definitely exist (an order perhaps?) that knows about the journey.

    Government should be open and transparent, and the people should be informed. It makes me sad that people would even propose such a thing.

  • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) * on Friday October 29, 2010 @07:27PM (#34069452) Journal
    "You start talking multi-generation biosphere ships or cryo ships you're talking about a huge set of problems"

    Agreed, the focus in these discussions always seems to be on how to move the spaceship but in reality that is a minor problem with several plausible solutions. When it comes to keeping the crew alive we don't even know how to keep a biodome [] on Earth from turning into a rotting cesspit after a year or two. Once we know how to do that we can perhaps use the technology to fix the (human) life support systems on "spaceship Earth" before we send a handfull of explorers to look at other planets.

Make it myself? But I'm a physical organic chemist!