For various predictable reasons I’ve been reading a fair amount recently on the origins of life and the likelihood of its emergence. So I was particularly interested when the New York Times reported the discovery that there are likely to be a great many suns with planets some of which are bound to be apt for life. A snippet of the most recent article:
…roughly one in three stars surveyed showed signs of harboring stony planets, and other researchers performing similar studies said the figure might be more like one in two. And though the 45 planets on the Geneva list are all “star-huggers,” as one astronomer put it, with orbital periods of 2 to 50 days — even Mercury needs nearly three months to circumnavigate the Sun — researchers are confident that other rocky planets remain to be found at Earthier distances from their suns.
Sara Seager, a planetary theorist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said astronomers hunt for planets by detecting telltale wobbles they induce in their host stars, a method that selectively nets the too big or too near. Nevertheless, she said, “the fact is, as soon as astronomers started looking for low-mass planets, they found a whole bunch, and that’s a real breakthrough.” Just imagine the orgy of moderation that a more inclusive scan would reveal.
To some theorists, the new results virtually guarantee the existence of other Earthlike worlds.
“Suppose you have a tribe, and the most noticeable members are the warriors, because they’re adventuresome, they roam around, they’re the first to be spotted,” said Douglas N. C. Lin, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “But you know that for every warrior, there’s a family behind the warrior.”
Dr. Lin continued, “Just as you can extrapolate from the warriors you see what the size of the larger population deep in the woods may be, so the presence of these short-period, super Earths implies that there are clusters of other planets farther out.” Potentially pleasant planets at that. “I would imagine that a significant fraction of ordinary Sunlike stars, maybe more than 10 percent, have habitable planets around them,” Dr. Lin said.
Check out the full article here.