I’ve always been a fan of data visualization. We have so much raw data in the world that can reveal incredible information about our Universe, and the only thing stopping us is the time to analyse it all. Sometime data visualizations pop up that really put things into perspective, help us see trends that we didn’t know of before, and offer insights into where we should look in the future. I feel like I find something amazing that someone has produced on a daily basis, and being able to visualize complex data can give anyone a deeper understanding of the trends that are found.
In terms of exoplanets, the trends have been pretty obvious. These days we constantly hear news of new planets being discovered orbiting distant stars, but before 1995 planet-hunting was a pretty boring career. A new animated GIF image shows how many planets have been found in the past 250 years.
The most important part of this image is not the explosion of planet discoveries from 1995 onward, it’s where the planet discoveries fall along the orbital period and mass axes. As we build better planet-hunting technology and refine our research methods, we find smaller planets, and planets with longer orbital periods. The trend moves us to smaller masses, then to larger orbits at those masses in a zig-zag pattern.
Especially in the last two years, we have launched new surveys that are able to find the smallest planets yet, and we are just approaching the realm of Earth sized planets. The next leap will be finding Earth sized planets at the right distance.
Once this happens, it won’t be long until we find a twin for Earth, a place that humans could survive, and a world where science fiction meets science fact.