It appears insane now. However, it wasn’t long ago we had no hard proof of planets existing outside our solar system. Referred to as “exoplanets,” the first definitive discovery of one did not come until 1992. For a few years after that, a trickle of distant worlds was added to the known exoplanet catalog.
Only within the last decade, with the assistance of the recently retired Kepler Space Telescope, has the pace of discovery increased exponentially. In June, the 4,000th exoplanet was confirmed.
That’s a giant leap in a single lifetime, and to mark just how far we have come in refining our view of the universe, NASA created the video visualizing when and wherein the night sky all of the known exoplanets were discovered. Note how rapidly the pace of the finds picks up as soon as Kepler starts making its contribution in 2010.
Kepler went to sleep permanently in 2018. However, its legacy has been picked up by other observatories just like the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which has already found over 700 new planet candidates in its first year in space.
Next up, the European Characterizing Exoplanets Satellite (CHEOPS) is set to launch by the tip of the year and NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is set to blast off in 2021. Each house telescopes will be able to do more than simply spot exoplanets – they may assist determine if conditions exist to support life upon their surfaces.