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Milky Way 'teeming with billions of Earth-like planets capable of supporting life'
Tuesday, 05 November 2013 12:17

The Milky Way galaxy is teeming with Earth-like planets that are not too hot and not too cold for liquid water to exist at their surface - and so be capable of supporting life, a study has found.

Astronomers have calculated that about one in every five of the billions of Sun-like stars in our galaxy has at least one rocky planet orbiting them at a distance where water is neither frozen solid nor boiled dry. Knowing how many rocky planets are in the so-called Goldilocks zone - neither too hot, nor too cold - was one of the central goals of the Kepler satellite mission to estimate the total number of "exoplanets" existing beyond the Solar System. The latest estimate, based on Kepler data, is the most accurate assessment so far of the number of potentially habitable planets in our own galaxy of between 100bn and 400bn stars.

"What this means is, when you look up at the thousands of stars in the night sky, the nearest Sun-like star with an Earth-size planet in its habitable zone is probably only 12 light years away and can be seen with the naked eye. That is amazing," said Erik Petigura of the University of California, Berkeley, who led the research.

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