NASA confirmed the existence of 65 new exoplanets this week. This brings the total to 5,005 planets outside of our solar system. 30 years since the first discovery, the pace is only quickening. With each new finding, we understand a little bit more about the unfathomably large universe we live in.
There are a few different ways to detect an exoplanet. Astronomers found the majority using the Kepler Space Telescope, which was in service from 2009 to 2018. It is likely the data collected during that time will uncover many more. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite launched in 2018 to continue the search. Images from the Hubble (1990-present) and Spitzer (2003-2020) Space Telescopes also contributed. But even telescopes here on Earth can detect exoplanets.
The expectation for the recently launched James Webb Space Telescope is to not only lead to the discovery of more exoplanets but also tell us more about them. Its improved technology will provides insights into the atmosphere of exoplanets, including whether any are habitable. Or even inhabited already.
You can explore NASA’s catalog of exoplanets, including artist representations of the planets and the stars they orbit. The measurements for both the mass (weight) and radius (size) of each are in either “Earths” or “Jupiters.” The distance from Earth is in light years. But also travel time using conveyances ranging from a car at 60 miles per hour to light speed at 671 million mph. The farthest exoplanet discovered so far is 27,727 light years away while the closest is only four.
Another way to understand the discovery of 5,005 exoplanets is through sound. The video linked below demonstrates the quickening pace by playing a sound at the discovery of each exoplanet. It starts with a few tones in 1992 before becoming a crescendo in recent years. There is even more information relayed in the short video. It maps each exoplanet’s location and the size represents how large the planet’s orbit is. The color shows which technique was used. The tones change depending on how long it takes each to orbit its star. The video is also available in 3D.
There are planets orbiting red stars, like in Superman, and planets that orbit two stars, like in Star Wars. According to NASA, there are likely hundreds of billions of exoplanets left to discover. And that is only in our Milky Way galaxy! There are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe. The final frontier, indeed.