London - There may be billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy capable of sustaining life, experts say.

They estimate that at least 17 billion stars, or one in six, harbour an Earth-sized planet in a close orbit. Many could lie within the habitable zone of their parent star – the orbital path where temperatures are just right for surface liquid water and, potentially, life. Any moons they have could further increase the chances of life.

The analysis, based on data from Nasa’s Kepler space telescope, was presented at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, California.

The figures were extrapolated from 16 months of data from Kepler which identified thousands of potential planets. They were found orbiting all kinds of stars, not just those similar to our Sun. William Borucki, the principal investigator, said the most important thing was “not to find one Earth but to find 100 Earths”. - Daily Mail