Earlier research suggested that rocky planets might be much more abundant around small stars than sunlike ones.

But a fresh analysis of data from NASA's Kepler mission, which launched in 2009, suggests this is not the case, according to new research presented at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, California.

"We found that the occurrence of small planets around large stars was underestimated," said astronomer Francois Fressin, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

A Starry Night ... Full of Planets

To find planets, Kepler stares at a patch of sky in the constellation Cygnus, made up of about 150,000 stars. The space telescope detects potential alien worlds by watching for telltale dips in starlight created when planets pass in front of, or "transit," their parent stars.

Using their own independent software for analyzing Kepler's potential planet detections, Fressin and his colleagues estimate that about 17 percent, or one in six, of all the sunlike stars in the Milky Way host a rocky planet that orbits closer than the distance at which Mercury orbits our own sun.