Is Earth One of Many Trillion?

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Far from being one of a kind, might the earth be one of many trillion?

A new estimate of the number of stars in the universe has upped astronomers’ guesses of how many earth-like planets exist outside our own solar system, BBC News reports. The new numbers are based on observations that show important differences between other galaxies and our own.

Astronomers hope intelligent life may have had time to evolve on orbiting planets.

A research team led by Yale astrophysicist Pieter van Dokkum used Hawaii’s Keck telescope to make the discovery, which showed that galaxies thought to be older than the Milky Way contain more “red dwarf”-type stars. Red dwarfs are stars that are smaller and dimmer than our own sun. Because they give off relatively little light, only with more powerful telescopes have scientists been able to detect them.

Based on existing ideas about planet formation, Van Dokkum’s team concluded that more stars means more planets. Furthermore, since red dwarf stars and the galaxies the team studied are thought to be older than our own, some astronomers hope intelligent life may have had time to evolve on orbiting planets.

“There are possibly trillions of earths orbiting these stars,” explained Van Dokkum. “Red dwarfs are typically more than 10 billion years old and so have been around long enough for complex life to evolve on planets around them.”

In addition to fueling evolutionary astrobiologists’ hopes of finding life in space, the finding offers an alternative to the popular idea of “dark matter,” which was intended to account for certain astrophysical findings that contradicted astrophysicists’ calculations. When factored in, these previously undetected red dwarfs may rectify the difference between observations and calculations, thus putting “dark matter” to rest.

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