Thursday, June 30, 2005 -- The Coming Age of Planets -- The Coming Age of Planets:

"The first was discovered in 1995. It was enormous -- half the size of Jupiter -- yet orbiting the star at a distance eight times closer than Mercury. Scientists did not think it was possible, that such a thing could exist. It did not fit their models. Yet there it was, undeniable, circling and circling with the ageless precision of the cosmos.

Once again, the universe had popped a new surprise on humanity. And once again, humanity shook its collective head, took a deep breath, and saw the universe afresh.

They called it, eventually, Bellerophon, the first exoplanet.

We live in a new age of discovery, the first days of a new renaissance. It is the dawn of the age of planets.

The discovery of the first extra-solar planet -- 51 Pegasi B, later dubbed Bellerophon -- was the clarion call announcing this new age. It's an age which will come to revolutionize our relationship with the universe as much as Galileo's discovery of the four moons of Jupiter.

In the decade since Michael Mayor and Didier Queloz announced their discovery, new discoveries have followed hot and fast, and with quickening pace. The recent announcement by Geoff Marcy and Paul Butler of an 'Earth like' planet only seven times the size of ours was the latest advance, appropriately marking the age's first decade. As this is written, scientists have detected over 150 exoplanets.

Allow yourself to take that sentence in. 150 planets. 150 new worlds. Our sun has, at most, nine (depending on how you regard poor Pluto). In a single decade we have found fifteen times as many worlds as are resident in our solar system.

But it is the future that makes the mind stretch with anticipation. For 150 is only the earliest taste of what is to come."

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