Alien Planets Hit the Commodities Market

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Science  17 Dec 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6011, pp. 1620
DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6011.1620

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Astronomers have discovered so many planets outside of the solar system in the past decade that only the weirdest of them now make the mainstream news. Although most of the planets discovered so far are gas giants, an analysis of the data has convinced researchers that smaller Earth-like planets abound in the universe and that improved detection capabilities in the coming years will turn up scores of them just in our galactic backyard. This insight has opened up the possibility of detecting life elsewhere in the universe within the lifetimes of young astronomers entering the field, if not sooner. Meanwhile, the sizes and orbits of planets already discovered are revolutionizing researchers' understanding of how planetary systems form and evolve.