Movin' on up in the Galaxy

Dear Reviewer,

If no other calamity befalls humans, they will eventually succumb to the thermonuclear ball of gas at the center of our solar system. The sun will begin dying within a billion years and will then either toss the Earth out of its comfy goldilocks orbit or will consume our planet as it expands and irradiates everything to death.

That’s all a long way away, but we face other threats like a large asteroid that killed off every mammal larger than a rabbit 65 million years ago, not to mention the threat of nuclear war, massive climate change and a plague that mutates to become the perfect human killer.

To avoid certain annihilation, humans must become a space-faring species and move on. First, of course, we’ll colonize Mars, but even that will be mostly practice for the big event: finding another Earth-like planet in another solar system.

And it’s beginning to look like our local neighborhood has extraordinary opportunities. A new study published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society using data from the Hubble telescope estimates that there are hundreds of millions of habitable Earth-like planets within our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

There may be more than 700 million planets very much like Earth in our own galaxy—the Milky Way. And there are billions and billions and billions of galaxies. Recent astronomical observations indicate that the most common planet in a solar system is a super-sized Earth. Won’t the future of McDonald’s be certain?

But that’s just the beginning. The study notes that about 60% of all the gases in the Milky Way that form stars, which then coalesce into disks of rock that become planets, has yet to condense. That means our galaxy has made less than half of all the stars and planets it is likely to form.

And that’s one galaxy. The universe itself has condensed only about 8% of its gases into stars. So the number of habitable Earth-like planets likely to exist in this one universe (there may be an infinite number of other universes we haven’t detected) is almost uncountable. Happy planet shopping.

To your health and wealth,

Stephen Petranek

Stephen Petranek