100 Billion Exoplanets Live in Our Galaxy

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At first blush, there is nothing particularly special about Kepler-32, a dwarf star located about 910 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus.

In fact, the star, which has five planets in tow, is so common, astronomers at the California Institute of Technology say it’s representative of three-quarters of all the stars in the Milky Way galaxy.

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The scientists analyzed Kepler-32′s structure, compared it with other planetary systems discovered by NASA’s Kepler space telescope and sat down to do some math. The

result: an estimate that the Milky Way is home to at least 100 billion planets.

“It’s a staggering number, if you think about it,” Caltech astronomer Jonathan Swift, said in a news release on the research.

“Basically there’s one of these planets per star,” he said.

“It’s like unlocking a language — the language of planet formation,” added John Johnson, an assistant professor of astronomy at Caltech.

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Interestingly, another team of astronomers last January came up with the same estimate using a different database and different technique. What spurred that team’s work was an original estimate by Kepler scientists in 2010 that the Milky Way had at least 50 billion planets.

The new research is being published in the Astrophysical Journal and online.

Image: More than 100 billion planets likely call Milky Way

home sweet home. Credit: Univ. of Texas