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Boost for interstellar exploration

In addition to turning-point years such as 1776, future schoolchildren might have to memorize 2013, the year astronomers established with reasonable certainty that there could be as many as 40 billion habitable planets about the size of Earth in our galaxy.

That significantly improved the odds there is life of some kind out there somewhere.

“It seems that the universe produces plentiful real estate for life that somehow resembles life on Earth,” Berkeley astronomer Erik Petigura told the New York Times.

Astronomers have discovered planets that are about the size of Earth, are rocky instead of composed of ice or gas and have atmospheres containing water – basically, all the ingredients for life.

The possibility was intriguing enough for the House Science Committee to conduct hearings on life on other planets.

Unfortunately, many of the answers will have to wait until 2018, when the next-generation James Webb Space Telescope is launched.

But the question of other Earths and other life forms is no longer a question of if but when, and the quest picked up new urgency this year. 2013. Remember that year, kid.