If we were having coffee, we would be sipping our brew out in the darkness. The caffeine would be helping us stay awake, while the the drink itself would be helping us stay warm on a cool night in early September. We would be standing, staring up at a starlit sky in a small clearing in the woods, far away from city lights.
Looking up into space is really an amazing thing. It never ceases to amaze me that each of those tiny glowing dots is actually a star, not unlike our Sun, millions of lightyears away. I can’t help but wonder as I stare up at the sky, is there someone out there who is looking back? Is someone else wondering if there is anyone out there at the same moment that I am? It is not so far fetched an idea if you think about it. Our solar system has eight, possibly nine, planets (if recent rumours of a Neptune-sized planet in the Kuiper belt are true). Our planet is only the fifth largest of the confimed planets in our system. All of the planets together make up less than 2% of the mass of the solar system, the Sun makes up the rest. That makes the Sun pretty big… but even that pales in comparison to some of the other stars out there. The largest star that we know of is estimated to have a volume five billion times greater than that of our Sun.
In terms of the number of stars out there, scientists guess there might be as many as 300 billion in our galaxy (the Milky Way) alone. They estimate there are 100 billion other galaxies. At the time I am writing this post, in only a tiny fraction of the observable universe, the Kepler Space Telescope has confirmed the existence of 2330 planets orbiting those distant stars. While most are gas giants, a small number of those planets are similar to Earth in size. An even smaller number are in the Goldilocks Zone of their respective stars (also known as the habitable zone, where it is just the right temperature for liquid water to exist). More planets are found on a regular basis.
If we have only searched a small fraction of the night sky, and have already found several Earth-like worlds, how many more are left to be discovered in the regions of space we still know nothing about? Some astronomers believe that number could be as high as 40 billion. If there truely are 40 billion planets similar to our own, doesn’t that pull the idea of extra-terrestrial life further from science fiction, and more into the realm of statistical probablity?
I leave you with that question as we stare off into the starry night, taking sips from our steaming mugs to chorus of crickets and frogs on our tiny blue planet in the vast universe.
Want to read about LEGO in space? Click here to read my article!
Until next time,