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Extrasolar Planets: The Saga Continues

Mercury Winter 2012 Table of Contents

by Paul Deans

Kepler-35 planetary system

An artist's rendition of the Kepler-35 planetary system, in which a Saturn-size planet orbits a pair of stars every 131 days, while the stellar pair orbits each other every 21 days. Courtesy NASA, Lynette Cook.

"Planet Population is Plentiful," says the European Southern Observatory in a press release from the January 2012 meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Austin, Texas. "A Wealth of Habitable Planets in the Milky Way," proclaims one more release, this one from the Niels Bohr Institute. "Milky Way Contains at Least 100 Billion Planets," says another press page from the Space Telescope Science Institute.

Amazing. In less than two decades, we have gone from extraterrestrial planets as the stuff of science fiction to an overwhelming abundance of extrasolar worlds.

Consider. Until 1998 and the first detection of an exoplanet (circling Gamma Cephei), there was no proof that other worlds existed. For all we knew, our solar system was a unique oddball. Of course, the assumption of our uniqueness, when it dealt with our place in the cosmos, has never stood the test of time.

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