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Nasa’s Kepler spacecraft, which will be launched next month to seek Earth-like worlds, is expected to find thousands of rocky planets in the patch of sky it surveys, Dr Boss told the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Chicago.
His expectation was that 85 per cent of Sun-like stars had one Earth-like planet, and that some could have many more. Given that there are 100 billion Sun-like stars in the galaxy, and 100 billion galaxies in the Universe, there may be 10 billion trillion planets that are good candidates for life. That is a one followed by 22 noughts.
With a habitable world sitting for five or ten billion years around another star, it was inevitable that some sort of life would form, Dr Boss said. If you had a planet with the right temperature and water for billions of years, you were bound to get life. Comets carrying the organic building blocks of life regularly bombard planets, he said.
If Kepler, and a European planet-finder called Corot, do find Earth-like worlds, the next step will be to launch space-based telescopes to study them. “If we find the signature of oxygen, that would be pretty strong proof that not only are they habitable, but they are inhabited,” Dr Boss said.
"The discovery of glycine in a comet supports the idea that the fundamental building blocks of life are prevalent in space, and strengthens the argument that life in the Universe may be common rather than rare," commented Dr Carl Pilcher