Thanks to major advances in technology, we’ve now managed to log the existence of more than 4,000 planets outside our solar system. That’s pretty darn impressive, especially when you consider that pre-1992 we couldn’t identify any.
To celebrate the recent discovery of the 4,000th exoplanet, as these celestial bodies are called, science-art outreach project System Sounds used NASA data to create a neat video (above) showing the discoveries in chronological order, beginning with the very first confirmed detection 27 years ago.
Much of the exploratory work was performed by the now-retired Kepler Space Telescope, a satellite that spent almost a decade orbiting the sun while peering into deep space in an effort to uncover some of its many mysteries. Indeed, Kepler’s admirable efforts are reflected by the sudden uptick in discovered exoplanets from 2010, when it started its search. You’ll notice the rapid increase in the video.
In its lifetime, the space telescope documented 61 supernovae and confirmed the existence of thousands of planets, collecting 678GB worth of scientific data along the way.
The good news is that although Kepler’s mission has finished, the search for more exoplanets has recently been taken up by TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), which headed to space last year.
Kepler found several thousand exoplanets in a single region of the sky, but TESS is exploring a far larger area as part of a more ambitious mission that’s expected to uncover a staggering 20,000 exoplanets in just a couple of years, some in the habitable zones of their host stars.
A world smaller than Earth was discovered by @NASA_TESS in a planetary system 35 light-years away from our own! L 98-59b is the tiniest exoplanet TESS has found so far and is 80% Earth’s size. Learn more here: https://t.co/0dwqJFWirQ pic.twitter.com/Jm2s3jCDU7
— NASA Blueshift (@NASAblueshift) June 27, 2019
TESS uses four wide-angle telescopes and associated charge-coupled device detectors to perform its search, transmitting data to Earth every two weeks.
“In a sea of stars brimming with new worlds, TESS is casting a wide net and will haul in a bounty of promising planets for further study,” Paul Hertz, astrophysics division director at NASA headquarters in Washington, said soon after TESS launched in 2018, adding, rather tantalizingly, that the mission has the potential to discover “another Earth.”