Here are 160 billion reasons to be excited about the search for habitable planets

We used to think our planet was unique, but discoveries by planet-hunting missions like Kepler continue to indicate that the the odds of Earth being one-of-a-kind are incredibly slim. Now, findings published in today's issue of Nature suggest that there are far more planets in our galaxy that we ever imagined:

Recently, a population of planets that are unbound or very far from their stars was discovered by [a planet-hunting method called] microlensing. These planets are at least as numerous as the stars in the Milky Way… We conclude that stars are orbited by planets as a rule, rather than the exception.

The international team of astronomers behind the paper concludes that there are an average of 1.6 planets per star in the Milky Way. Their estimate, if correct, would put the number of planets in our galaxy alone at 160-billion; as for the rest of the Universe... well, you may have noticed it's a very big place.

Read more about the researchers' findings — including the details behind an interesting method of planet-hunting known as "microlensing" — over on Cosmic Log.

[Nature via Cosmic Log]
Top image by M. Kornmesser/ESO via Cosmic Log]