Trillions Of Planets, And Still Counting

Continuing developments in telescope technology are causing astronomers to increase their estimates of the number of Earth-like worlds in the universe.

The latest disclosure deals with the existence of “red dwarf” stars, which are dimmer and smaller than the Sun.  Until recently, telescopes have not been sufficiently powerful to detect such stars in other galaxies.  Enhancements to telescopes, however, have allowed astronomers to determine that red dwarf stars are far more common than was previously suspected.  Indeed, astronomers believe that such stars are 20 times more prevalent in older galaxies than in our galaxy.  As a result, astronomers also are concluding that there likely are many more Earth-like planets orbiting those stars — possibly trillions of Earth-like worlds.

Trillions of Earth-like planets?  The concept is provocative, because increases in the number of planets logically also increases the likelihood of life, and therefore intelligent life, on at least some of those faraway planets.  And the follow-up question is even more provocative:  would the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life be good or bad?  Would we rather be the only intelligent life forms in the universe, or would we prefer to learn that we are not alone — indeed, that intelligent life is as common as the fish in the sea?  How comfortable would humans be with the knowledge that they live in a crowded neighborhood, where neighbors might drop in for a visit at any moment?