Astronomers see more planets than stars in galaxy

January 11, 2012 - 2:43 PM
Plentiful Planets

This handout illustration provided by San Diego State University, shows a newly discovered planet, called Kepler 35, that circles not one but two stars. Scientists thought this type of two-sun system _ made famous as the home planet of the fictional Luke Skywalker _ is too unstable to support planets. But so far they’ve found three of these planets with two suns, showing that planets seem to be everywhere. The study is in this week’s journal Nature. (AP Photo/Lynette R. Cook, San Diego State University)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Astronomers now think planets outnumber stars in our galaxy. And they've only begun to count.

Thanks to powerful telescopes and a better understanding of different solar systems scientists are finding new places to look for life beyond Earth.

Three studies released Wednesday shed new light on the diversity of planetary systems. One of the studies estimates that our Milky Way galaxy averages at least 1.6 large planets per star. The Milky Way has an estimated 100 billion stars.

Also, scientists once thought systems with two stars were just too chaotic to include planets. But so far astronomers have found three different systems where planets have two suns. Just a few years ago that idea seemed to be the stuff of science fiction seen only in Luke Skywalker's realm.