Since 1995, over 3,000 exoplanets have been discovered orbiting other stars in our Milky Way galaxy. While this is surely just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how many total planets (habitable or otherwise) are in our galaxy, they may as well not exist at all, since it will be next to impossible to visit any of them. Our galaxy is MASSIVE and it would take thousands of years to visit even the closest star to our Sun, with conventional technology.
But even if we can’t visit those galaxies, it doesn’t mean we can’t SEE them, even with the crazy distances involved. Enter the Gemini Planet Imager and this incredible video:
This is a multi-year project documenting actual footage of exoplanet β Pic b orbiting it’s parent star β Pictoris which is more than 60 light-years from Earth. While it isn’t a long video, or very clear, or really anything remotely like what one may expect, it’s nevertheless incredibly exciting to see even a hint of this object that is so so far away.
While this type of imaging exercise may be difficult for some people to understand, another example is a little clearer, with some human intervention:
Image credit: Jason Wang/Christian Marois
This little animation by the Keck observatory in Hawaii shows the entire planetary system orbiting the star HR 8799, which makes it even more incredible when you realize that the animation is based on 7 YEARS of observation time…which also make astronomers among the most amazingly patient researchers in all of science.
Good things come to those who wait indeed. Way more information than you’d ever thought you would need on exoplanets can be found at the link: http://exoplanetarchive.ipac.caltech.edu/