A big year for exoplanet exploration came to a fitting end in December when astronomers announced new exoplanet discoveries that brought the total number of known worlds outside our solar system to over 500.
The milestone number indicates the breakneck speed with which astronomers have made new exoplanet discoveries in just the past few years. Just a few decades ago, finding planets orbiting stars besides our sun was considered a distant, unlikely possibility.
Over 450 new planets have been discovered in the past decade, and the Kepler mission is poised to dramatically increase that count in the coming years, as it scours 100,000 distant stars for evidence of exoplanets. With a massive roster of candidate planets already being sorted through by scientists, don't expect the planet count to remain near 500 for long.
The graphic below illustrates the sheer number of exoplanets discovered so far - and the increasing speed with which they are being found.
Written by Joshua Rodriguez/PlanetQuest