In a quest to find an Earth-like planet, a discovery suggests that more than half of all sunlike stars in our Milky Way is likely to have a habitable planet orbiting it. The findings are yet to be published in The Astronomical Journal.

A report in quoted authors of the study as saying that on average, each sunlike star in the Milky Way likely harbours between 0.4 and 0.9 rocky planets in its “habitable zone” — “the just-right range of orbital distances where liquid water could be stable on a world’s surface”.

According to scientists, “rocky planets” are planets with diameters 0.5 to 1.5 times that of Earth. Sunlike stars are those with surface temperatures between 8,180 and 10,880 degrees Fahrenheit (4,527 to 6,027 degrees Celsius), the report said. “G dwarfs and K dwarfs” mostly meet these criteria. K dwarfs are slightly smaller than G dwarfs and about twice as numerous.

Study co-author Jeff Coughlin, who is an exoplanet researcher at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI) in Mountain View, California, said, “This is the first time that all of the pieces have been put together to provide a reliable measurement of the number of potentially habitable planets in the galaxy.”

The Kepler space telescope was used to estimate that “there could be as many as 300 million potentially habitable planets in our galaxy,” SETI said in its press release.

“Some could even be pretty close, with several likely within 30 light-years of our Sun,” it said.

Researchers at SETI, in collaboration with Nasa and other organisations, analysed exoplanets similar in size to Earth and thus most likely to be rocky planets to develop a reasonable estimate. “They also looked at so-called Sun-like stars, around the same age as our Sun and approximately the same temperature. Another consideration for habitability is whether the planet could have the conditions necessary to support liquid water,” the release published on October 29 said.

The team led by Steve Bryson of Nasa’s Ames Research Center in California also examined data on stellar properties from the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft, which is precisely mapping a billion Milky Way stars.

Researchers also calculated occurrence rates for both a “conservative” and an “optimistic” habitable zone — 0.37 to 0.60 planets per star for the former and 0.58 to 0.88 planets per star for the latter.

The new research did not consider red dwarfs, also known as M dwarfs, which make up about three-quarters of the Milky Way’s stellar population.

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Star, Rogue planet, Milky Way, Earth, Exoplanet

World news – GB – 300 million potentially habitable planets in galaxy, say researchers in new study

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