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Livable Planets Believed to Be More Common

on February 23, 2008

The search for life far from earth seems to expand every month, with greater attention—and money—focused on finding planets with “conditions suitable for life.” Now, a new study suggests these “livable” planets may be more common than we thought.

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The team, which presented its findings at an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Boston, argues that more than half of the sun-like stars in the galaxy could have planetary systems similar to ours.

More than half of the sun-like stars in the galaxy could have planetary systems similar to ours.

University of Arizona astronomer and team leader Michael Meyer explained, “Our observations suggest that between 20% and 60% of Sun-like stars have evidence for the formation of rocky planets not unlike the processes we think led to planet Earth.” The team used NASA’s Spitzer telescope to examine stars that weigh approximately as much as our own sun. Some of the youngest such stars surveyed were surrounded by dust discs—the sort that naturalists hypothesize led to earth’s formation.

NASA’s Alan Stern added to the excitement at the AAAS meeting when he suggested there could be many more planets within the solar system—in the far-off Kuiper Belt region and beyond, where hundreds of planetoids have already been discovered. Stern told BBC News, “Our old view, that the solar system had nine planets, will be supplanted by a view that there are hundreds if not thousands of planets in our solar system.” Stern also speculated that some of these could be earth-sized.

There’s little doubt that evolutionary ideas about the origin of life will continue to fuel legions of astronomers who—with government and private funding—search an ever-widening radius from earth for any signs of earth-like planets, on the assumption that where there’s an earth-sized planet / water in any form / quasi-organic molecules, there will soon be life. The question is, how many times will life not be discovered before astronomers realize life doesn’t just “appear”?

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