Over the last 30 years, scientists have succeeded in identifying a staggering 5,000 planets in distant solar systems.
It\’s difficult to believe that it is only in the last few decades that the detection of planets in orbit around distant stars has been possible, with the first confirmed detection occurring back in 1992.
Since then, our ability to detect these distant worlds – and in particular the effectiveness of the techniques through which such discoveries are made – has been going from strength to strength.
Now, thanks to the tireless efforts of astronomers around the world, NASA\’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has confirmed that the total number of known extrasolar planets has exceeded 5,000.
“It\’s not just a number,” said NASA\’s Jessie Christiansen. “Each one of them is a new world, a brand-new planet. I get excited about every one because we don\’t know anything about them.”
To date, around 35% of the known exoplanets are similar to Neptune, 30% are gas giants like Jupiter and 31% are giant terrestrial worlds known as super-Earths.
Only a very small number are thought to be small terrestrial planets like our own.
This doesn\’t mean that Earth-like worlds are not commonplace, however, only that it is much easier to detect larger planets than it is to detect smaller ones.
Once the James Webb Space Telescope begins operations in the summer, it will finally be possible to observe these distant worlds in more detail.
Whether one of them will turn out to be another \’pale blue dot\’, however, remains to be seen.