Kepler, which will focus for three years on the Cygnus-Lyra region of the Milky Way with the goal of locating potential Earth-like planets, is set to launch in the coming week. Needless to say the find of a planet in the habitable zone of another star could startle.
But a recent CNN article points out perhaps it shouldn't come as too big a surprise.
Alan Boss, an astronomer with the Carnegie Institute and author of the new book "The Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets," has put the number of such planets in the billions. He bases his estimate, in part, on the number of "hot Jupiters" discovered by comparatively primitive technology in the past 10 years.
So far, water vapor and carbon dioxide have been confirmed in the atmospheres of other transiting planets. And rocky planets are beginning to turn up. If any of these Earth-like planets happen to be in the Goldilocks zone of their parent star, it's no stretch to believe that liquid water will be present.
Also suggestive is the newly published paper from the International Journal of Astrobiology (abstract) Based on computer simulations, astronomers from the University of Edinburgh puts the number of planets potentially sporting life at 38,000. Amazingly, their simulation also suggests that up to a couple hundred of those might host intelligent life.
Given that water ice and briny water(?) have been confirmed on our next door planetary neighbor, Mars, only recently, and that active geologies can be found on elsewhere in our solar system, and that those goelogies produce organic chemicals and water ice, the conditions for unintelligent life certainly seems possible. And surely it's no coincidence that these kinds of finds in our solar system and elsewhere in the Milky Way emerge from the universal woodwork just as soon as our tools are developed enough to find them.
Like another planet spotting craft, CoROT, Kepler could open the door to possibilities that beggar belief. We may yet keep company.