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50 Billion Planets! Do Odds Increase that Advanced Technological Civilizations Exist at the Edge of the Milky Way?

6a00d8341bf7f753ef00e54f3c16958834-800wi The Kepler space telescope has mapped more than 1,200 planets in one tiny corner of our Milky Way Galaxy. Based on that sample, scientists say that there are approximately 50 billion planets in the entire galaxy based on a conservative estimate of one planet per star in the galaxy, including 500 million that are theoretically capable of sustaining life.

In astronomer Milan Cirkovic's view, truly advanced technological civilizations (ATCs: those who survive the bottleneck presented by the threat of self-destruction through warfare or asteroid impact or other accidents) will tend to be located at the outskirts of the Milky Way. The very traits that make  ATCs capable of migrating and utilizing resources with high efficiency will tend to make them systematically hard to detect from afar.

Jamin Zuckerman proposed in 1985 that stellar evolution of stars far older than our Sun is an important motivation for civilizations to undertake interstellar migrations.  It seems implausible that any but the most extreme conservative societies would opt to wait to be forced to migration by slow and easily predictable process like their star leaving the Main Sequence..

Kepler has discovered 1,235 exoplanets that revolve around a sun, in an area that represents around 1/400th of the Milky Way. By extrapolating these numbers, the Kepler team has estimated that there are at least 50 billion exoplanets in our galaxy — 500 million of which sit inside the habitable "Goldilocks" zones of their suns, the area that it is neither too hot nor too cold to support life.

Astronomers estimate that there are 100 billion galaxies in the universe. If you want to extrapolate those numbers, that means there are around 50,000,000,000,000,000,000 (50 quintillion) potentially habitable planets in the universe.

As Arthur C. Clarke, physicist and author of 2001: A Space Odyssey wrote, "The idea that we are the only intelligent creatures in a cosmos of a hundred billion galaxies is so preposterous that there are very few astronomers today who would take it seriously. It is safest to assume therefore, that they are out there and to consider the manner in which this may impinge upon human society."

Sources: NASA/JPL

Casey Kazan. Art Credit:  Jon Lomberg is one of the world's most distinguished artists inspired by astronomy.


Who says ATC's "migrate?" Perhaps there aren't any species in the galaxy who've reached that old sci-fi impasse of no more resources in their home solar systems. I think we should at least confine ourselves to reasonable speculation, here. We don't want to go getting people's hopes up too much. Lotsa peeps already think SETI has found aliens and the gov is hiding htem from us.

Something wrong with your figures. If Kepler looked at 1/400 of the Milkey Way Galaxy and found 1,235 planets, that would imply there were only 494,000 planets in the Milkey Way. Are you sure that Kepler looked at 1/400 of the whole Galaxy? Seems high to me.

What a shame. This only leaves 499,999,999 planets for humans to screw up.

There are many more than this estimate postulates. Using the model of only one planet per star is way off base. And there are a lot more stars in the Milky Way than 200 hundred million. More likely, Stars will have scores of planets around them,also moons to consider. I don't think they will find many stars without planets of some kind,it's in their nature. Visits between star systems may be too far and take too long for any civilization to do unless the star is in a binary system or within 1 light year. Robots may be the only way to do it.

Richard Ranney asked if there was something wrong with the figures. The figures are taking into account that Kepler can only see a tiny faction of the planets around the 156,000 stars it's watching due to only seeing the transits of planets that happen to have orbits that line up with the Earth.

50 billion planets around 100 billion stars is a very, very conservative figure. I've seen articles that say the number of planets Kepler is finding suggests that almost all stars have planets. There could be hundreds of billions of planets in the galaxy.

Recent evidence indicates that there could me more numbers of low mass jupiter sized stars, and undetectable brown dwarfs in the galaxy then normal stars. These stars don't even fuse hydrogen, and emit only infrared radiation. These stars, like Jupiter and Saturn, can have many satellites that could support life. The problem is that they have weak magnetic fields, and may not safeguard their inhabitants from cosmic rays as well as a larger star like the sun does, and our magnetosphere shield around earth.

You’ve got a lot of that info here on your site. I’m impressed!

Lets presume 500 million estimated habitable planets in our galaxy. If only one percent of them (using the bottom of a scale from one percent to ninety-nine percent habitable)truly have complex life that would be 5 million planets. If one percent of that amount have intelligent life that would be 50,000 planets. Say one percent of that total have intelligent life capable of space travel that would be 500 planets. Spread out ramdomly across the galaxy which is 100,000 light years across (using diameter only)the nearest such planet could be 200 light years away.

I would say no there is no other planet in the whole universe that has intelligent life because we are made special God formed us with his own hand and breathed life into man's nostrils he did not do this with any other creature on earth he just spoke his word and it was so. There could very well be life elsewhere in the universe but very simple forms but no intelligent life we are it.

@Alex Remember the great scientists and philosophers of old? When they made "unreasonable speculation" that the Earth was round and not flat and revolved around the sun?

Jeff Sherman,
is it not possible that your "God" was in fact an intelligent life form that created us? Keep your religious babble to yourself.

It seems reasonable to me, if our universe is a big hologram which we create from one nanosecond to next, that there's no other sentient beings but us in here. At last, if this universe is just our dream, it is reasonable to think that in our dream there isn't place for others...

Richard Ranney wrote: "What a shame. This only leaves 499,999,999 planets for humans to screw up."

That statement shows a complete lack knowledge of the geological record. Planets are not static ideals that humans screw up. They're biologies and morphologies are dynamic.

This is the kind of anti-human, cloudy thinking that pervades contemporary life. The reality is life on Earth has never had a better chance of surviving now that human beings exist. Yes, there have been some obvious environmental issues, but over the long haul a drop in the bucket compared to a cometary impact with the planet which humans may prevent in the future.

Additionally, with the knowledge we are quickly gaining on genetics many species lost can be brought back and much of the ecosystems damaged restored.

There are MORE THAN 50 BILLION STARS in the galaxy, did you just make up that number out of thin air?? A quick look at Wikipedia could've told you this...

why are most of these comments from 2 before this article was published? Does somebody have a time machine they're not sharing with the rest of the class?

why are most of these comments from 2 *weeks* before this article was published? Does somebody have a time machine they're not sharing with the rest of the class? why isn't there a way for me to edit my last comment?

@Dante D'Anthony
STFU ,copy pasting big words from a google search to make yourself look smart is your first mistake ,your second mistake is that your an idiot ,life on earth is worse off with fucked up humans governing it ,instead of pumping money into research to prevent your so called cometary impact were pumping it into stupid shit so if a comet did come we would be fucked anyways

LOL @ anon

What big words? Avoiding the F word hardly requires copy and pasting from Google, for most of us that is. His post is pretty accurate and any one with a reasonable amount of brain power has figured that out. Prosperity evolves. Nature, left to itself, is generally pretty cruel. I'm bored with uneducated humanity haters. I'm sure that whatever you mean by "stupid shit" isn't nearly as interesting as reality.

let me know when you see one

i'm sure that we will make contact sometime in the future and i hope that this happens in my lifetime.Science is not my field but the social tranformation that our species would undergo after contact makes my imagination run wild. Beter or worse for us or them? Not sure. However when so many people in out society still clings to religion as a answer to difficult questions, one could expect a radical shift in believe systems. What would the pope do, bring out The Bible 2.0 ? Medicine, nutrition, weapons, think how much our cultures stole from each other. Radical exhange of information. Or we capture some and demand Elvis back.


@ anon
I think you should be careful before you accuse others of stupidity

Haters gonna hate..

your rite, fellow anon.. There is no win on this site.

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