160 Billion Exoplanets and Counting

They say every star up there has at least one planet zipping around it. Add it up and it means the Milky Way is home to 160 billion exoplanets, give or take. That’s too many.

Space, the final frontier, was so much more intriguing when we thought Earth was the only planet and even more endearing when we believed it was the center of the universe. Scientists had to go and spoil everything by populating the sky with not only galaxies but billions of them from here to kingdom come. Then they got it in their detectors to fill it up with planets. And just so we wouldn’t get these mixed up with our planet they called them exoplanets.

They believe they have found about 700 or so of these balls of gas, rock or roquefort orbiting either astonishingly close to their mother stars, absurdly far, or within the so-called Goldilocks zone, temperature 22 Celsius and with a Club Med. Another 2,300 or so have been detected and will be confirmed. All this in just 20 years of painstaking discovery.

Now they claim that each star out there, roughly 100 billion in our galaxy alone, has maybe 1.6 buddy planets. (The leftover 0.6 of a planet has to look like the half-built Death Star of “Star Wars.”) Scientists are so confident in their findings (using voodoo gravitational microlensing) that they say each twinkling speck may have considerably more than 1.6 planets in regal orbit, like 2.3 or 4.1 or you name it, sky’s the limit.

The point is the Milky Way is a very, very crowded place. We ought to be uncomfortable with this amusing, but grave finding.

Jumping up and announcing that not only are we not the bee’s knees of the galaxy — our elegant star and its fairly calm family of planets — but that planets are a dime a dozen, well, that rankles. It’s as if someone suddenly drove up in a nicer, more powerful Mustang than yours and honked an invitation to race. The fear is that some new kid on the block will leave us in the dust.

Note that there are people out there (I guess I mean “on here”) who don’t give a hoot about the planet or the stars or the universe, for whom this news will leave them cold. Then there are those who don’t think we really have to worry about some guys from hoods light years away (we have time to muscle up), for whom the planetary population explosion will again elicit perhaps a shrug.