The formation of our solar system was not a freak occurrence in the history of the universe. In fact, there are many other planetary systems out there that are quite similar.
Scientists call planets that orbit other stars exoplanets. Using powerful telescopes, researchers have found more than 4000 exoplanets.
Exoplanets are very hard to see directly with telescopes. They are hidden by the bright glare of the stars they orbit. So, astronomers use other ways to detect and study these distant planets. They search for exoplanets by looking at the effects these planets have on the stars they orbit.
One way to search for exoplanets is to look for “wobbly” stars. Planets going around a star will drag it slightly in different directions. From far away, the star looks like it is wobbling. Another way to observe exoplanets is by looking for a slight darkening of the star when a planet passes in front of its disk.
Scientists estimate that there could be tens of billions of Earth-sized planets that have the right conditions for life, in our galaxy alone. And our galaxy is just one among hundreds of billions of other galaxies in the universe.
The upshot is that life, even intelligent life, may well exist outside of our solar system. But that’s not to say it’ll be easy to find!