Scientists Find Planets Out of This World

Discoveries of, info about new heavenly bodies pour into NASA
By Katherine Thompson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 24, 2008 9:30 AM CDT
A false-color image taken by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity's camera showing the dune crests in the Endurance Crater.    (Associated Press)
camera-icon View 4 more images

(Newser) – Humans took centuries to discover the other planets in the solar system, but in the 13 years since the first additional planet was identified, planetary scientists have found 277 more worlds orbiting other suns. And those extrasolar planets are just the confirmed ones—many more are suspected, and excitement among scientists is building, reports the Washington Post.

"This is an absolutely astounding time for this field," says a researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "We're not only finding them rapidly and in great variety, but we're starting to characterize them," which means learning about their orbits, atmospheres, and in the case of one announced last week, their organic molecules. The next wave: detecting smaller, earth-sized planets.