A fresh count of exoplanets floating through space has surpassed the 5,000 mark, with NASA confirming the latest batch of planets outside the immediate solar family.
As of March 21, NASA added 65 exoplanets, with astronomers now able to confirm there are more than 5,000 exoplanets — and counting. Exoplanets are defined as any planet beyond our solar system. Most orbit other stars, but some free-floating exoplanets, called rogue planets, can orbit the galactic center and are untethered to any star.
The 5,000-plus planets found so far include small, rocky surfaces like Earth, gas giants like Jupiter and some called “hot Jupiters” that have temperatures “scorchingly close to orbits around their stars,” according to NASA.
There are also exoplanets that are considered “super-Earths” that are possible rocky worlds bigger than the Earth humans reside on. There are even some exoplanets orbiting two stars at once and planets NASA considers, “stubbornly orbiting the collapsed remnants of dead stars.”
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“It’s not just a number. 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,” said Jessie Christiansen, a research scientist with the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute.
NASA says there are likely hundreds of billions of such exoplanets, with the discovery dating back to 1992. Since then, the agency’s Exoplanet Archive continuously updates its exoplanet encyclopedia — including detailed data on all known exoplanets.
More resources are being devoted to researching and identifying exoplanets, with NASA expected to launch the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope in 2027 to make new exoplanet discoveries using a variety of methods.
Roman will have a field of view that is 100 times greater than the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA’s 32-year-old telescope that is still actively exploring space, able to capture more of the sky with less observing time.
“To my thinking, it is inevitable that we’ll find some kind of life somewhere – most likely of some primitive kind,” said Alexander Wolszczan, astronomy and astrophysics professor at Pennsylvania State University.
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