That's what said Lisa Kaltenegger of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, and the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for
Astrophysics, during a September 2012 press conference in which European researchers announced the discovery of about 50 planets new to science.
There are now 854 exoplanets, or worlds orbiting distant stars, catalogued in the online Extrasolar Planets
. And the catalogue is growing at an ever-increasing rate...
Artist's impression of the view from a moon around planet PH2b. (Credit: Haven Giguere)
The graph I've done below using the Extrasolar Planet Encyclopaedia data
breaks down the 854 known planets
by their year of discovery. The graph is cumulative; it shows the number of known planets up to and including any given year. The slope of the graph
shows how quickly the pace of discovery has been ramping up: in 2009, 82 planets were found. 114 in 2010 and 189 in 2011. While 2012 saw a faint
decrease of the discoveries (135), the very beginning of 2013 is promising by itself for the whole year:
Fifteen New Planets Hint at 'Traffic Jam' of Moons in Habitable Zone
NASA's Kepler Discovers 461 New Planet Candidates
A number of factors can help explain the field’s takeoff.
1- Technological innovation
Instruments such as the NASA Kepler spacecraft and the HARPS spectrograph on a European Southern Observatory telescope in Chile have brought dramatic
improvements to astronomers’ extra-solar vision.
Exoplanet research is now a popular field attracting large numbers of young researchers.
3- A simple snowball effect
Early exoplanet discoveries proved that it was possible to detect faraway worlds and prompted other researchers to get in the game.
Some sharp-eyed readers may notice that the graphs stretch back to 1989, whereas the exoplanet community generally refers to 51 Pegasi b, discovered
in 1995, as the first exoplanet. The disparity comes from how one chooses to define a planet: Is a planet-size object orbiting a pulsar a planet? Is a
giant world roughly a dozen times the mass of Jupiter a planet or a brown dwarf? The catalogue’s guidelines are fairly inclusive, as its curator
, meaning that some objects in the Extrasolar Planets
Encyclopaedia will not meet every researcher’s conditions for planethood.
Now, what's next?
My best guess for 2013 is that it will sees:
1- A greater increase in the number of smaller-size planet ("Earth-size" or less) candidates and the number of stars with more than one candidate.
2- A greater increase of planets orbiting at habitable zone distances from the host stars, mainly due to the exact same three points I've listed
That could happen any day now.
Exoplanet "Eden" in Andromeda Galaxy
Planethunters lead scientist Professor Debra Fisher of Yale University said: "We are seeing the emergence of a new era in the Planet Hunters
project where our volunteers seem to be at least as efficient as the computer algorithms at finding planets orbiting at habitable zone distances from
the host stars. Now, the hunt is not just targeting any old exoplanet - volunteers are homing in on habitable worlds."
Lead author Dr Ji Wang, also of Yale University, said: 'I can't wait for the day when astronomers report detecting signs of life on other
worlds instead of just locating potentially habitable environments."
Not science-fiction anymore?
Related ATS threads:
A Newly Confirmed Planet and 42 Additional Planet Candidates
100 Billion Planets in our Galaxy ... at least ...
A major breakthrough for humanity en route
Deepest image of the universe ever taken - 5500 galaxies in 2 arcminutes in
edit on 7-1-2013 by elevenaugust because: (no reason given)