Super Earth Planets Number in Billions, Many May Be Habitable Say Scientists

Scientists: Lots of Habitable "Super Earth" Options for When We Trash This One

Scientists: Lots of Habitable "Super Earth" Options for When We Trash This One

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March 28 2012 3:15 PM

Super Earth Planets Number in Billions, Many May Be Habitable Say Scientists

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(New research from scientists in Chile suggests there may be billions of "super earth" planets in space, a large percentage of them habitable enough to support life. This NASA Hubble Space Telescope image released 04 December, 2003 shows a festively colored nebula, called NGC 604, one of the largest known seething cauldrons of star birth in a nearby galaxy.)

Photo by NASA/AFP/Getty Images

Those looking skyward for aliens just got some more serious mathematics to back up their blind faith.

Scientists now estimate there are billions of earth-like planets called super-earths in our galaxy. And they think a whopping 41 percent of them reside in what’s called “the habitable zone,” an area the right distance from their red dwarf suns to allow liquid water on the surface—the best ingredient we know of for supporting life.

Researchers in Chile studied hundreds of red dwarfs or cooling mini suns, and believe they are being orbited by earth-like planets 1 to 10 times the mass of earth.

There are complications, though. Red dwarfs are known for stellar eruptions of radiation that could lower chances for life. And at 30 light years away, even the closest planets are far beyond our capabilities for interstellar travel.

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The good news? Our sun won’t likely destroy us for 7.6 billion years, so we’ve got plenty of time to pack our bags and set autopilot for the closest super earth.

Video produced by Krishnan Vasuvedan

Ben Johnson is the producer of Marketplace Tech from American Public Media.