If ET phones home today, his long distance charge might not be as much as people believed when Steven Spielberg's classic film came out three decades ago.
That's because recent data from NASA's Kepler space telescope suggests that billions of Earth-like planets are much closer than ever before imagined.
"The information we presented today will excite the general public because we now know that the nearest potentially Earth-like world is likely within 13 light years of the sun," astronomer Courtney Dressing said in an email to The Huffington Post.
"Astronomically speaking, 13 light years is practically next door."
While we don't know if intelligent life exists on any of these planets, it raises the chances of that possibility.
Watch this video about the red dwarf suns and Earth-like planets:
The scientific team studied the huge number of red dwarf stars in our galaxy -- stars that are smaller and have a longer life span than our own sun.
Just doing the math, the odds of Earth-like planets in our galaxy are, well, astronomical.
Scientists estimate 6 percent of the 75 billion red dwarf stars may have Earth-size planets orbiting them at a possible habitable distance. That works out to approximately 4.5 billion Earths out there.
"Before today, it could have been that Earth-like planets did not exist, or that they were so rare that the closest one would be beyond the reach of any telescope we might construct. Thus we would never know whether or not we were truly alone," astronomer David Charbonneau told HuffPost in an email.
Charbonneau, co-author of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics study, acknowledges the intense interest the public has in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
"I would say that the single greatest question in all of science is 'Are we alone?' The announcement today moves the ball downfield significantly toward answering this question.
"In my conversations with people around the world, I have found that this great question provides enormous perspective on our lives, in much the same way that knowing the physical size of the Universe has humbled our view of our place in the cosmos," Charbonneau said.
But even if a planet like Earth is only a stone's throw away, at 13 light years from us, how could we even see it with our current technology?
"Future missions, such as the NASA James Webb Space Telescope (the successor to Hubble) and proposed extremely large ground-based telescopes, like the Giant Magellan Telescope, will be able to probe the atmospheres of nearby habitable planets," Dressing said.
"Those missions will be able to search for biosignatures, like oxygen, and possibly lead to the first announcement of life on another world."
The results of Dressing's and Charbonneau's study will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.
Also on HuffPost:
NASA's Kepler Mission Discovers Planet
In this handout illustration made available on December 5, 2011 by NASA, the Kepler-22b, a planet known to comfortably circle in the habitable zone of a sun-like star is digitally illustrated. For the first time NASA's Kepler mission has confirmed a planet to orbit in a star's habitable zone; the region around a star, where liquid water, a requirement for life on Earth, could persist. The planet is 2.4 times the size of Earth, making it the smallest yet found to orbit in the middle of the habit. Clouds could exist in this earth's atmosphere, as the artist's interpretive illustration depicts. (Photo Illustration by Ames/JPL-Caltech/NASA via Getty Images)
NASA's Kepler Mission Discovers Planet
In this handout illustration made available on December 5, 2011 by NASA, a diagram compares our own solar system to Kepler-22, a star system containing the first 'habitable zone' planet discovered by NASA's Kepler mission. The habitable zone is the sweet spot around a star where temperatures are right for water to exist in its liquid form. Liquid water is essential for life on Earth. The diagram displays an artist's rendering of the planet comfortably orbiting within the habitable zone, similar to where Earth circles the sun. Kepler-22b has a yearly orbit of 289 days. The planet is the smallest known to orbit in the middle of the habitable zone of a sun-like star and is about 2.4 times the size of Earth. (Photo Illustration by Ames/JPL-Caltech/NASA via Getty Images)
Extrasolar Planet HD 209458 b, Osiris
Artist's conception released by NASA of extrasolar planet HD 209458 b, also known as Osiris, orbiting its star in the constellation Pegasus, some 150 light years from Earth's solar system. Scientists have used an infrared spectrum -- the first ever obtained for an extrasolar planet -- to analyze Osiris' atmosphere, which is said to contain dust but no water. The planet's surface temperature is more than 700 Celsius (1330 Fahrenheit).'
Planet & Its Parent Star
Picture released 04 October 2006 by the European Space Agency shows an artist's impression of a Jupiter-sized planet passing in front of its parent star. Such events are called transits. When the planet transits the star, the star's apparent brightness drops by a few percent for a short period. Through this technique, astronomers can use the Hubble Space Telescope to search for planets across the galaxy by measuring periodic changes in a star's luminosity. The first class of exoplanets found by this technique are the so-called 'hot Jupiters,' which are so close to their stars they complete an orbit within days, or even hours. A seam of stars at the centre of the Milky Way has shown astronomers that an entirely new class of planets closely orbiting distant suns is waiting to be explored, according to a paper published 04 October 2006. An international team of astronomers, using a camera aboard NASA's Hubble telescope, delved into a zone of the Milky Way known as the 'galactic bulge', thus called because it is rich in stars and in the gas and dust which go to make up stars and planets. The finding opens up a new area of investigation for space scientists probing extrasolar planets - planets that orbit stars other than our own. AFP PHOTO NASA/ESA/K. SAHU (STScI) AND THE SWEEPS SCIENCE TEAM
Picture released 04 October 2006 by the European Space Agency shows an artist's impression of a unique type of exoplanet discovered with the Hubble Space Telescope. This image presents a purely speculative view of what such a 'hot Jupiter' (word dedicated to planets so close to their stars with such short orbital periods) might look like. A seam of stars at the centre of the Milky Way has shown astronomers that an entirely new class of planets closely orbiting distant suns is waiting to be explored, according to a paper published 04 October 2006. An international team of astronomers, using a camera aboard NASA's Hubble telescope, delved into a zone of the Milky Way known as the 'galactic bulge', thus called because it is rich in stars and in the gas and dust which go to make up stars and planets. The finding opens up a new area of investigation for space scientists probing extrasolar planets - planets that orbit stars other than our own. AFP PHOTO NASA/ESA/K. SAHU (STScI) AND THE SWEEPS SCIENCE TEAM
The Goldilocks Planet: Glises 581 G
Scientist have found a new potentially habitable planet.
Imagining Extrasolar Planets
From the Spitzer Science Center. While astronomers have identified over 500 planets around other stars, they're all too small and distant to fill even a single pixel in our most powerful telescopes. That's why science must rely on art to help us imagine these strange new worlds. From Spitzer Space Telescope. Even without pictures of these exoplanets, astronomers have learned many things that can be illustrated in artwork. For instance, measurements of the temperatures of many "Hot Jupiters," massive worlds orbiting very close to their stars, hint that their atmospheres may be as dark as soot, glowing only from their own heat. While "Hot Jupiters" would be relatively dark in visible light, compared to their stars, their brightness is proportionally much greater in the infrared. Illustrating this dramatic contrast change helps explain why the infrared eye of NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope plays a key role in studying exoplanets. As our understanding evolves, so must the artwork. Astronomers found a blazing hot spot on the exoplanet Upsilon Andromedae b that at first, appeared to face towards its star. More data has revealed that the hottest area is actually strangely rotated almost 90 degrees away, near the day/night terminator. WASP 12b is as hot as the filament in a light bulb, and would be blazing bright to our eyes. Most interestingly, if it proves to have a strongly elliptical orbit, as first thought, calculations show it would be shedding some of its outer atmosphere <b>...</b>