When you’ve seen one planet….
Well, actually, we knew that. We live on one. And anyway, the International Astronomical Union recently stipulated that planets could only be things orbiting the Sun. Don’t ask me why. So the new things have to be called exoplanets. And over 300 hundred of these were known before today anyway. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, so we won’t worry about the taxonomy. But what’s the big deal?
What is different about the most recent observations, reported in today’s issue of Science, is that they involve direct detection (i.e. imaging) of exoplanets, not indirect inferences made by studying stellar wobbles. An example is shown here: the three red dots are the exoplanetary objects orbiting around the star HR 8799.
But is every new detection of an exoplanet going to be hyped like this from now until doomsday? Or until the public gets thoroughly bored? Might it not be better to wait until there’s a sufficiently large and unbiased sample that exoplaneticists can quit their stamp collecting and start doing some real science?
At least in cosmology nobody ever exaggerates the importance of their discoveries.