Mark A. Carter

stars, life zones, and billions of planets

World famous Canadian Science Fiction novelist Mark A. Carter has reprinted an article here for your edification. It is scientific vindication for Science Fiction writers who have written about alien life on other worlds but have been dismissed, maligned, and ridiculed as writing fantasy and improbable possibilities.

Images of Earth, Kepler-62 e, and Kepler-62 f are provided courtesy of PHL - Mapping the Habitable Universe.
Copyright © The Planetary Habitability Laboratory,, University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo.

And, in part, it is scientific vindication for Jill Tartar and the team at SETI who have been ridiculed by mainstream scientists for decades yet have labored relentlessly in the belief that life exists everywhere out there in the Milky Way and possibly, according to the Drake Equation, some of that life may actually be intelligent or even advanced.

Read: SETI and the Drake Equation.

The latest calculation, not estimation, indicates that every star has planets and one in five of the stars have Earth-like planets in a habitable zone. That figure alone is amazing beyond belief. Space operas like Isaac Asimov's 1951 novel Foundation, Gene Roddenberry's 1966-69 TV series Star Trek, and George Lucas' 1977 film Star Wars are to be applauded for their Science Fiction insight. Again, the predictive nature of Science Fiction has come through.

Jill Tartar and her associates, so far, have not heard from E.T. But they will eventually. Jill may not be around to witness first contact. It may occur one hundred years from now. But by then, we will already be out there, given the recent breakthrough in warp drive thinking by Harold G. White at NASA. And we will be colonizing systems everywhere that harbor hospitable Earth-like worlds.

Read: NASA Warp Drive.

In the short term, let it sink in: We are not alone.

Secondly, questions abound. When we go out there and encounter xenophobic others, won't we be considered by them to be the aliens especially if we blindly attempt to colonize their world?

Will we develop a Prime Directive not to interfere with other worlds that have life, as first mentioned in Star Trek? It would be a good idea.

Will we colonize other worlds and meld into the indigenous population, as the Spanish did in Central America and as the French did in North America?

Will we travel to other worlds as active aggressors or as passive settlers?

Will we travel to other worlds in search of raw materials and commit genocide, in the name of profit, as James Cameron showed in his 2009 film Avatar?

All of these questions and others must be asked before we venture to the stars. But as Ray Bradbury wrote in his 1951 book of short stories entitled The Illustrated Man:

"When man tries to see beyond his own time he must face questions for which there cannot yet be absolute answers."

This science news is extraordinary. We are unquestionably not alone in the galaxy or in the universe. But serious questions confront us. In the next few decades we will be warp capable and be out there. And we have to travel out there with a set of rules. Now is the time to grow up, as Arthur C. Clarke wrote in his 1953 novel Childhood's End. If we do not, perhaps Gort will pay us a visit. As Klaatu states at the end of the 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still:

"It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet, but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder."

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Enjoy the article.

Study: 8.8 Billion Earth-Size, Just-Right Planets
WASHINGTON November 4, 2013 (AP)

Space is vast, but it may not be so lonely after all: A study finds the Milky Way is teeming with billions of planets that are about the size of Earth, orbit stars just like our sun, and exist in the Goldilocks zone - not too hot and not too cold for life.

Astronomers using NASA data have calculated for the first time that in our galaxy alone, there are at least 8.8 billion stars with Earth-size planets in the habitable temperature zone.

The study was published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.


Goldilocks or Habitable Zone

Copyright ©

For perspective, that's more Earth-like planets than there are people on Earth.

As for what it says about the odds that there is life somewhere out there, it means "just in our Milky Way galaxy alone, that's 8.8 billion throws of the biological dice," said study co-author Geoff Marcy, a longtime planet hunter from the University of California at Berkeley.

The next step, scientists say, is to look for atmospheres on these planets with powerful space telescopes that have yet to be launched. That would yield further clues to whether any of these planets do, in fact, harbor life.

The findings also raise a blaring question, Marcy said: "If we aren't alone, why is there a deafening silence in our Milky Way galaxy from advanced civilizations?"

In the Milky Way, about 1 in 5 stars that are like our sun in size, color and age have planets that are roughly Earth's size and are in the habitable zone where life-crucial water can be liquid, according to intricate calculations based on four years of observations from NASA's now-crippled Kepler telescope.

" If people on Earth could only travel in deep space, you'd probably see a lot of traffic jams," Bill Borucki, NASA's chief Kepler scientist, joked Monday.

The Kepler telescope peered at 42,000 stars, examining just a tiny slice of our galaxy to see how many planets like Earth are out there. Scientists then extrapolated that figure to the rest of the galaxy, which has hundreds of billions of stars.

For the first time, scientists calculated - not estimated - what percent of stars that are just like our sun have planets similar to Earth: 22 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 8 percentage points.

Kepler scientist Natalie Batalha said there is still more data to pore over before this can be considered a final figure.

There are about 200 billion stars in our galaxy, with 40 billion of them like our sun, Marcy said. One of his co-authors put the number of sun-like stars closer to 50 billion, meaning there would be at least 11 billion planets like ours.

"Based on the 1-in-5 estimate, the closest Earth-size planet that is in the habitable temperature zone and circles a sun-like star is probably within 70 trillion miles of Earth," Marcy said.

And the 8.8 billion Earth-size planets figure is only a start. That's because scientists were looking only at sun-like stars, which are not the most common stars.
An earlier study found that 15 percent of the more common red dwarf stars have Earth-size planets that are close-in enough to be in the not-too-hot, not-too-cold Goldilocks Zone.

"Put those together and that's probably 40 billion right-size, right-place planets," Marcy said.

And that's just our galaxy. There are billions of other galaxies.

Scientists at a Kepler science conference Monday said they have found 833 new candidate planets with the space telescope, bringing the total of planets they've spotted to 3,538, but most aren't candidates for life.

Kepler has identified only 10 planets that are about Earth's size circling sun-like stars and are in the habitable zone, including one called Kepler 69-c.
Because there are probably hundreds of planets missed for every one found, the study did intricate extrapolations to come up with the 22 percent figure - a calculation that outside scientists say is fair.

"Everything they've done looks legitimate," said MIT astronomer Sara Seager.

Read: Regularity of Mass Extinctions
SETI and the Drake Equation

Now you know.

from the imagination of Mark A. Carter - novelist

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