A newly-published NASA and Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) study is asserting that roughly 92 percent of habitable worlds have yet to be created. The research draws on data collected by NASA's Hubble and Kepler space telescopes, with the aim of placing the creation of Earth, and the potential for advanced life in the greater context of the Universe.
Observations from Kepler and other space telescopes suggest that Earth-like planets sitting in a star's habitable zone are actually surprisingly common, with around a billion such worlds thought to exist in our galaxy alone. This has led to the foundation of institutions and large-scale initiatives investing heavily in the search for intelligent extraterrestrial life.
However, according to the study, the majority of habitable worlds on which intelligent civilizations will exist simply haven't been born yet. Scientists estimate that the last star won't burn out for around 100 trillion years, meaning that there is still a vast amount of time for new stars and Earth-like planets to be created. This raises the unpleasant thought that our civilization may have simply been born too early, but the authors of the paper convey a more positive message.
A paper on the study asserts that before its end, the Universe will create roughly 10 times as many planets than there are now, and that this proliferation indicates that there is at least a 92 percent chance that ours will not be the only advanced civilization to exist in the universe before its end.
According to the paper, future Earth-like planets are more likely to be created in enormous galaxy clusters and dwarf galaxies that have retained stores of star creating materials. So whether we find them or not, its a comforting statistic.
Whilst we are most likely not going to be around to observe the bonanza of habitable worlds that will come into being, the timing of our civilization is ideally suited to understanding the creation and evolution of the early Universe.
The time frame in which our planet was created paired with our scientific capabilities means we are ideally placed to observe evidence of the cataclysmic creation of the cosmos and its evolutionary path, by studying ancient light and electromagnetic radiation.
In contrast, a civilization that evolves a trillion years on another Earth-like planet, and reaches the same, or even a higher level of scientific ability as our own would be unable to gaze back to the beginnings of the Universe as we have, because the clues that were available to us would have long since faded.
The paper is available online on the Monthly notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
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