The Number of Habitable Planets in the Universe Just Doubled

Studying Mars’ habitability is old news. According to a study published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, 60 billion planets could be habitable, an increase that is double the original estimate. 

When deciding on a planet’s ability to sustain life, scientists considered the distance between the planet and its star. If the star is positioned too close, it would make the planet too hot to support life and would evaporate any water sources available. If positioned too far, the lack of heat from the star would cause the temperature to be cold and thus freeze the water supply.

However, after researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Chicago created 3D models that simulate how clouds function in alien planets, clouds have now become one of the factors that determine a planet’s habitability.

"Clouds cause warming, and they cause cooling on Earth," Dorian Abbot, researcher and assistant professor in geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago, said. "They reflect sunlight to cool things off, and they absorb infrared radiation from the surface to make a greenhouse effect. That's part of what keeps the planet warm enough to sustain life."

Analyzing the results of this study, two questions have arisen: Could these planets actually be viable for humans to live on, and are we getting closer to discovering extraterrestrial beings?     

Between the naysayers and the whacked-out paranormal conspiracy theorists, we can look to an academic voice to confirm the high possibility of the existence of aliens in a more balanced and scientific way.  

"Give me a break. I mean how many stars are there out there in the universe anyway?” Dr. Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist at the City University of New York, said in response to scientists who deny that other life forms exist.

“The Hubble space telescope can see about 100 billion galaxies, that’s the visible universe. Each galaxy consists of 100 billion stars ... There definitely are aliens in outer space, they're out there."

Apart from the existence of countless galaxies and the new research showing that clouds could sustain life in other planets, it is possible that even in the 100 billion galaxies Professor Kaku referred to, there exist life forms that live under conditions that differ greatly from those that humans survive under. We may not have yet come across other inhabitants of this universe but if they exist, with the advancement of technology bringing scientists further out into the universe, the possibility of finding extraterrestrial beings could likely one day become a reality.