Maybe 100 Million Life-Friendly Planets

We’ve posted several times about all the extra-solar planets that are constantly being discovered — much to the distress of creationists. The last time was 715 Newly-Found Extra-Solar Planets. The total of confirmed planets spotted outside our solar system is now nearly 1,700.

The article we found today at PhysOrg is different from the others, because it quantifies the number of planets in the galaxy that could sustain life. Let’s take a look at Milky Way may bear 100 million life-giving planets. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

There are some 100 million other places in the Milky Way galaxy that could support complex life, report a group of university astronomers in the journal Challenges. They have developed a new computation method to examine data from planets orbiting other stars in the universe. Their study provides the first quantitative estimate of the number of worlds in our galaxy that could harbor life above the microbial level.

Here’s a link to the paper: Assessing the Possibility of Biological Complexity on Other Worlds, with an Estimate of the Occurrence of Complex Life in the Milky Way Galaxy. You can read it without a subscription, but you’ll have to download it. Back to PhysOrg:

“This study does not indicate that complex life exists on that many planets. We’re saying that there are planetary conditions that could support it. Origin of life questions are not addressed – only the conditions to support life,” according to the paper’s authors Alberto Fairén, Cornell research associate; Louis Irwin, University of Texas at El Paso (lead author); Abel Méndez, University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo; and Dirk Schulze-Makuch, Washington State University.

At this stage in our galactic exploration, it’s amazing that they can estimate how many planets have such conditions. Let’s read on:

Complex life doesn’t mean intelligent life – though it doesn’t rule it out or even animal life – but simply that organisms larger and more complex than microbes could exist in a number of different forms. For example, organisms that form stable food webs like those found in ecosystems on Earth,” the researchers explain in an auxiliary statement.

They’ve actually estimated the number of planets that can have more than mere microbes? How did they do that? We continue:

The scientists surveyed more than 1,000 planets and used a formula that considers planet density, temperature, substrate (liquid, solid or gas), chemistry, distance from its central star and age. From this information, they developed and computed the Biological Complexity Index (BCI).

We haven’t read the paper, but we strongly suspect that their methodology is more substantial than the fantasy computations of the Discoveroids for determining specified complexity. Here’s more:

The BCI calculation revealed that 1 to 2 percent of the planets showed a BCI rating higher than Europa, a moon of Jupiter thought to have a subsurface global ocean that may harbor forms of life. With about 10 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, the BCI yields 100 million plausible planets.

Is Europa their benchmark? Apparently so. This is from the paper’s abstract:

By our calculation only 11 (~1.7%) of the extrasolar planets known to date have a BCI above that of Europa; but by extrapolation, the total of such planets could exceed 100 million in our galaxy alone. This is the first quantitative assessment of the plausibility of complex life throughout the universe based on empirical data. It supports the view that the evolution of complex life on other worlds is rare in frequency but large in absolute number.

We’re not discouraged. There should be plenty of adventure in a galaxy with 100 million worlds at least as hospitable to life as Europa. Here’s one last excerpt:

“It seems highly unlikely that we are alone,” say the researchers. “We are likely so far away from life at our level of complexity that a meeting with such alien forms might be improbable for the foreseeable future.”

It’s probably a good thing that we’ve got some distance from any potentially competitive species. At this stage in our history, it might be a one-sided conflict — and it wouldn’t be in our favor.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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20 responses to “Maybe 100 Million Life-Friendly Planets

  1. Don’t know if you’ve seen this but the Keck website has a great video about how they tease these nuggets of knowledge out of some pretty huge data:

    I love exoplanet research, now if we could just come up with practical FTL transportation…

  2. Does this have a bearing on that silly argument some creationists yap about of our world being fine tuned for life?

  3. Sounds like the Drake equation needs to be revisited and modified.

  4. From the sound of this, it may be that some of those exo-planets are ‘friendly’ to life-forms that like to feed on Tokyo: ‘Godzilla of Earths’ identified… 🙂

  5. Doctor Stochastic

    There may be more if we dropped the “As We Know It” require to life. There may be some type of Olaf Stapledonian version of life almost anywhere. (I’m only partly Sirius.)

  6. makagutu asks

    Does this have a bearing on that silly argument some creationists yap about of our world being fine tuned for life?

    Arguably, it does not–on the grounds that this is data, and no amount of data (and no matter how solid that data may be) ever has any effect whatsoever on stilling the yapping of creationists.

  7. Crick said many years ago that part of the problem with origins of life studies is that we don’t know whether the emergence of life on a suitable planet was wildly improbable, or almost inevitable, or somewhere in between. I think that’s still true.

  8. Paul Braterman notes

    Crick said many years ago that part of the problem with origins of life studies is that we don’t know whether the emergence of life on a suitable planet was wildly improbable, or almost inevitable, or somewhere in between. I think that’s still true.

    Indeed–but that doesn’t stop the Creationists from shamelessly quote-mining Crick to make him sound like a fellow evolution-denier. The same passage from Crick has been so misrepresented many times, most recently by the redoubtable Casey Luskin (20 May 2014) Panspermia, Environmental Alarmism, Socialism, Gaia, Nazi-Comparisons, and More: Cosmos’s Endgame Is Becoming Clear. Like all the other Creationists before him, Luskin gives this as a quote from Crick (in Life Itself, 1981):

    An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.

    And–just like his fellow Creationists, Luskin omits the rest of the paragraph:

    But this should not be taken to imply that there are good reasons to believe that it could not have started on the earth by a perfectly reasonable sequence of fairly ordinary chemical reactions. The plain fact is that the time available was too long, the many microenvironments on the earth’s surface too diverse, the various chemical possibilities too numerous and our own knowledge and imagination too feeble to allow us to be able to unravel exactly how it might or might not have happened such a long time ago, especially as we have no experimental evidence from that era to check our ideas against. Perhaps in the future we may know enough to make a considered guess, but at the present time we can only say that we cannot decide whether the origin of life on earth was an extremely unlikely event or almost a certainty-or any possibility in between these two extremes. If it was highly likely, there is no problem. But if it turns out that it was rather unlikely, then we are compelled to consider whether it might have arisen in other places in the universe where possibly, for one reason or another, conditions were more favorable

    Luskin really is a piece of work–or a piece of [edited out]…

  9. anevilmeme

    Can’t wait for the Discoveroids to publish their “peer reviewed” paper explaining how the 100 million figure was predicted by ID.

  10. Off topic, but too funny not to share: Creationist Cosmos

  11. docbill1351

    Don’t worry, the Tooters will pick up on the word “complexity” in BCI. I can hear Dense now babbling about how scientists have finally embraced ID and “complexity.” It will give her the vapors, ah truly believe.

    The difference between the BCI paper guys and the Tooters is that real scientists know how to make estimates based on observation, limits and bounds. The Tooters just invent big numbers (or small numbers) and claim that such an event is improbable. Of course, taken to it’s limit, one is then faced with the problem of Infinite Improbability. To wit:

    Then, one day, a student who had been left to sweep up after a particularly unsuccessful party found himself reasoning in this way: If, he thought to himself, such a machine is a virtual impossibility, it must have finite improbability. So all I have to do in order to make one is to work out how exactly improbable it is, feed that figure into the finite improbability generator, give it a fresh cup of really hot tea… and turn it on!

    Which has consequences:

    He did this and was rather startled when he managed to create the long sought after golden Infinite Improbability generator. He was even more startled when just after he was awarded the Galactic Institute’s Prize for Extreme Cleverness he was lynched by a rampaging mob of respectable physicists who had realized that one thing they couldn’t stand was a smart-arse.

    Imagine how nice the world would be if the Tooters turned their efforts to producing humor like Douglas Adams rather than being a gang of sociopaths.

  12. docbill1351 challenges us to

    Imagine how nice the world would be if the Tooters turned their efforts to producing humor

    Huh? What else do they do apart from produce humour? Am I missing something? You’ve lost me here….

  13. The PhysOrg paper says ” With about 10 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, the BCI yields 100 million plausible planets.”

    That should be “10 billion planets in the Milky Way galaxy”. One percent of 10 billion planets is 100 million planets.

    The estimated number of stars in the Milky Way is 100 – 400 billion, not 10 billion.

  14. Good catch, retiredsciguy.

  15. Megalonyx asks incredulously, “Huh? What else do they do apart from produce humor?”

    What?? Are you calling all that fart condensate they put out “humour”???

    (Well, now that I think about it, Whoopie Cushions are usually good for a few laughs.)

  16. On the David Rives creationist in the 21st century show this week he had Dr. Danny Faulkner on to talk about this very issue. (The Rev is showcasing more variety of creationist characters but invariably they are from AIG/Hambo or CSE/Hovind.) Searching on this guy I found this gem, a pedantic critique of Bill Nye’s astronomy in the Hambo-Nye debate.
    I particularly enjoy the smug blast at the end, “a bit embarrassing for the executive director of the Planetary Society” as if the Planetary Society would be better off with a creationist Ph.D. This guy has everything except a coffee mug that says, “I’m smarter than you.”

  17. @Troy: I just finished looking over Faulkner’s article at AiG that you linked. Agreed — the guy is an arrogant, pompous ass, and he probably does have one of those coffee mugs.

    He’s questioning whether Bill Nye is an expert in astronomy. I think Nye himself would be the first to admit that he is not. What he is is a generalist — with a wide range of knowledge across all the fields of science, but not narrowly focused in one specialty. In other words, Nye is just the guy to explain science to the public, something he has been doing well for decades now. (I was using his videotapes in my science classroom back in the ’80s.)

    Faulkner takes Nye to task for not understanding the “history” of the Big Bang”, thinking that Nye stated that Fred Hoyle was a supporter of the Big Bang theory (he did not and Hoyle was not, but that’s immaterial). Whether Nye understands the history of the theory is unimportant anyway — what matters is that he understands the theory itself, regardless of who first proposed it, or who may have derisively named it the “Big Bang”. I’m confident that Nye has as good an understanding of the theory as almost any astronomer who is not an expert in the narrow field of cosmology, and certainly a better understanding than Young Earth Creationist Danny Faulkner.

  18. “…one of those coffee mugs.” Thanks!

    [*Voice from above*] It is done!

  19. @RSG When I wrote that I hadn’t quite finished Faulkner’s appearance on the David Rives cable show (I fell asleep) Watching the end he presents considerable disinformation about the population of exoplanets detected to date. (He tells Christians of his ilk to not be afraid of SETI or exoplanet searches because he arrogantly presumes they won’t find any evidence of life elsewhere) His disinformation is that we are finding odd planetary systems with gas giants close to the parent star, with Earth like systems far and few between. The problem is you can not extrapolate from early findings because systems with large gas giants in tight orbits are in fact systems that are easiest to find. Most exoplanets are found with the doppler wobble method, not direct or transit methods.
    As for his critique of Nye, I concur. Reminds me of my college days where the professors were never as good at teaching as the t.a. (for those who don’t know a t.a. is basically grad students that assist professors to teach for tuition, room, and board) There is something about the psyche of the specialist that makes them less capable of teaching as a generalist.

  20. P.S. I found it interesting on the show as well that David Rives misidentified a Jupiter satellite shadow as one of Jupiter’s satellites. While Faulkner corrected him, I have to wonder how much astronomy David Rives has done if he would mix it up. It is certainly possible that he is more interested in deep sky objects rather than planets but still leaves me wondering if his telescopes are show horses and not work horses.