9 February 2023

How many habitable planets are there in the Milky Way? A new project sets out to answer this question


Researchers from the Globe Institute want to know how many planets in our galaxy are habitable. Professor Anders Johansen has received just under DKK 20 million from the Carlsberg Foundation for the project.

milky way
Photo: Vincentiu Solomon/Unsplash.

Astronomers have identified more than 5,000 exoplanets, which are planets orbiting other stars than the Sun. But are they habitable? And how many of them are there in the Milky Way?

With DKK 19.8 million from the Carlsberg Foundation, Professor Anders Johansen and his research team want to determine whether these planets are potentially habitable.

“Our study seeks to understand how planets like Earth are formed around other stars. If the planets are located at the right distance to the host start to allow liquid water on their surface,” Anders Johansen says about the project ‘FIRSTATMO’.

The project could help make major progress in understanding the composition of rocky planets and their atmospheres.

Professor Anders Johansen

To answer this question, the researchers will study the formation of exoplanets, their atmosphere and its components. Such measurements are possible with the new super telescope, James Webb, launched in 2021 and last summer sent beautiful pictures back to Earth.

The project is part of the Carlsberg Foundation’s Semper Ardens: Advance pool of DKK 179 million distributed between 10 projects.

“Members of our team have played key roles in formulating a new planet formation theory where rocky planets grow by collecting millimetre-sized pebbles. We are therefore in a unique position to combine our expertises in an interdisciplinary project to make major progress in understanding the composition of rocky planets and their atmospheres,” says Anders Johansen.

The project will run from 2023 to 2028 and will be conducted by a group of researchers from the Globe Institute researching theories of planet formation.

They will collaborate with colleagues from Heidelberg, Paris and Zürich, trying to understand how exoplanets are formed and comparing their theories to observations of exoplanets.

“The Semper Ardens grant means a lot to us. It allows us to focus for a period of years on developing our theories of planet formation towards understanding how planets like Earth are formed around other stars,” he says.