The subject of this episode is Exoplanets! What are they? Where are they? How are we finding them? And, most importantly, will we find life on them someday (perhaps even soon)? It’s no exaggeration to say that the field of exoplanet study has exploded in the past two decades. Between 1992 and 2022, we’ve gone from having a single confirmed exoplanet for astronomers to study to over 5,000*! In the coming years, that number is expected to reach well into the tens of thousands.
What’s more, next-generation telescopes will offer the kind of sensitivity and high-resolution needed to find more rocky planets that orbit closer to their stars (which is where “Earth-like” and habitable exoplanets are most likely to be found). With thousands of worlds in the exoplanet census and so many more waiting to be added, could the first detection of life beyond the Solar System be far behind? It is impossible to say, but many astrobiologists speculate that the first evidence could be found in less than 20 years.
If you’re the kind of person who likes the long odds, you might want to place your bets now!
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*As of the writing of this post, 5,090 exoplanets have been confirmed in 3,816 systems, with another 8,912 candidates awaiting confirmation.