Kepler Space Telescope data suggests up to 40 billion Goldilocks planets

A new analysis of Kepler Space Telescope data by Berkeley astronomers suggests that as many as 40 billion planets with climates similar to Earth's may be calculated to exist in the Milky Way galaxy. Of those, 11 billion orbit stars similar to our sun. The rest of the hypothetical planets orbit red dwarf stars, which are the same size as our sun but cooler. New news nicely complements the more in-depth recent mineral analysis of the single planet Kepler Planet 78b.

The data comes from four years of observation by the Kepler telescope launched in 2009 and currently orbiting the sun. Although the guidance system on the sun orbiter is now defunct, the data record is still valid. The analysis is based on occurrences of the telescope detecting possible planets passing in front of stars and causing shadows.

The figure of 40 billion excludes planets that orbit too far or too close to stars to indicate a climate similar to Earth's. The accounted-for planets exist in the Goldilocks Zone–neither too hot nor too cold, but just right. Astronomers will focus their search for life mainly just on those planets, allowing them to narrow their search field.

The non-red-dwarf stars in play number about 50 billion. Concurrently with this analysis of hypothetical planets, another analysis announced last week was able to more certainly confirm 833 new planet discoveries in addition to the approximately 1000 discovered since 1995. The new research results were announced at the Kepler Science Conference at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View.

SOURCE: San Francisco Chronicle