New Atlas 20th Anniversary

Brave New Worlds: The age of exoplanet discovery

Brave New Worlds: The age of e...
An artist's impression of some of the types of exoplanets astronomers have discovered over the last few decades
An artist's impression of some of the types of exoplanets astronomers have discovered over the last few decades
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Artist's impression of the newly detected planets Photo courtesy KASI, CBNU, and ARCSEC
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Artist's impression of the newly detected planets Photo courtesy KASI, CBNU, and ARCSEC
Artist's impression of the Kepler space telescope (Image: NASA)
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Artist's impression of the Kepler space telescope (Image: NASA)
An artist's impression of some of the types of exoplanets astronomers have discovered over the last few decades
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An artist's impression of some of the types of exoplanets astronomers have discovered over the last few decades
Artist's conception showing the inner four planets of the Gliese 581 system and their host star (Image: Lynette Cook)
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Artist's conception showing the inner four planets of the Gliese 581 system and their host star (Image: Lynette Cook)
Artist's impression of the yellowish star HIP 13044 and, on the bottom right, its planet HIP 13044 b (Credit: ESO/L. Calçada)
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Artist's impression of the yellowish star HIP 13044 and, on the bottom right, its planet HIP 13044 b (Credit: ESO/L. Calçada)
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KELT-9b, seen as the pink dot passing in front of its blue Type-A host star, is the hottest exoplanet ever discovered
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KELT-9b, seen as the pink dot passing in front of its blue Type-A host star, is the hottest exoplanet ever discovered
Artist’s impression showing a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the solar system
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Artist’s impression showing a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the solar system
Artists's impression of the TRAPPIST-1 solar system. TRAPPIST-1 now holds the record for the solar system with the most orbiting Earth-sized exoplanets
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Artists's impression of the TRAPPIST-1 solar system. TRAPPIST-1 now holds the record for the solar system with the most orbiting Earth-sized exoplanets
There's an entire universe of weird and wonderful exoplanets out there, and New Atlas is rounding up some of the most bizarre
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There's an entire universe of weird and wonderful exoplanets out there, and New Atlas is rounding up some of the most bizarre
Artist's concept illustrating Kepler-16b, the first planet known to definitively orbit two stars (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle)
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Artist's concept illustrating Kepler-16b, the first planet known to definitively orbit two stars (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle)
Artists impression of a gas giant exoplanet passing across the face of its star
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Artists impression of a gas giant exoplanet passing across the face of its star
View gallery - 12 images

The hunt for planets beyond our solar system has truly taken off over the last few decades, so it’s no surprise that exoplanet news has become a staple of New Atlas’ science coverage. With the recent discovery of the 5,000th exoplanet coinciding with our own 20th anniversary, now seems like the perfect time to reflect on the milestones along the way.

For as long as we’ve looked up at the night sky, it’s been assumed that there should be planets orbiting at least some of the stars we see there, but it wasn’t until 1992 that astronomers confirmed the very first detection of an “extrasolar” planet. While New Atlas (née Gizmag) wasn’t around to cover those early years of exoplanet science, we dipped our toes in the water for the first time in 2008, with the discovery of a “strikingly similar” planetary system some 5,000 light-years away.

Things really kicked off the following year, with the launch of NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which was specifically designed to search for exoplanets. Candidate detections began to pour in by the hundreds over the next few years, and by 2015 astronomers had confirmed more than 1,000 exoplanets in around 440 systems. Seven years later and that number has now swollen to over 5,000.

Some of the highlights include Gliese 581g, the first potentially habitable exoplanet; HIP 13044 b, the first candidate exoplanet found outside the Milky Way galaxy; the first detection of a rogue planet, not bound to any star; Kelt-9b, the blistering gas giant that’s hotter than most stars; Proxima b, c and d, which are the closest exoplanets to Earth at just four light-years away; and of course the TRAPPIST-1 system, which contains seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a red dwarf.

We at New Atlas have been here to cover them all – and occasionally round up some of the weirdest worlds out there, like the planet where it rains rocks, or the one that’s just a big diamond.

Here's a look at some of the biggest exoplanet discoveries over the past two decades:

View gallery - 12 images
3 comments
3 comments
Bernd1991
So have they found a... new... Atlas?

Sorry but with your name you should have made a joke like that somewhere hahaha
Jethro Sharpe
When I was 16,at school, I asked my Geography teacher if he thought there were planets around other stars. He was the closest we had to an Astronomy teacher, since we covered Astronomy in one of our Geography chapters.

Anyway, he said I must not ask questions like that, it's HERESY. That was around 1993 / 1994.

A year later the first exoplanet was discovered. It's amazing how we've gone in the last 27 or so years, that it was literally heresy to just think about it, to becoming something we take for granted with thousands discovered.

Man I love science
Nobody
I wonder how many of these new planet finds are just long lived sun spots on many of these stars? If the red spot on Jupiter can last 100s of years, I imagine these sun spots can too.