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60 billion habitable planets

Milky Way may contain 60 billion habitable planets

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A new study by the University of Chicago and Northwestern University has revealed that our galaxy may contain as many 60 billion planets capable of supporting life, which is double the most recent estimates based on data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft.

NASA’s research had concluded that there should be roughly one Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of each red dwarf star. However, the latest findings published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, have revealed that planets orbiting red dwarfs may be more likely to be habitable that initially thought.

The team of scientists came to this conclusion after extensive computer simulations of cloud behaviour on the planets surrounding red dwarfs. They found that if water was on the surface of the planet it would result in clouds, which are considered crucial for life since they keep the planet warm enough to sustain life as well as reflecting sunlight that would make it too hot. Thus the clouds would help to create a temperature that would be suitable for sustaining life.

Clouds exert a major influence on Earth's climate. If clouds only cooled the planet by reflecting solar energy back to space, Earth would be covered in ice. But if clouds only warmed the planet by absorbing and reemitting infrared energy back to the surface, Earth would fry under a greenhouse effect like the one on Venus.

The second implication for being able to identify cloud cover is that it could provide a new way to confirm the presence of water on the surface of the planets.

By April Holloway

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