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See Inside Scientific American Volume 307, Issue 6

Exoplanet Discoveries to Date Are Just a Drop in the Bucket

Systematic searches are revealing a plenitude of alien worlds

Astronomers have in the past 20 years located several hundred planets orbiting distant stars, and they have only scratched the surface. In a small patch of stars—less than 1 percent of the sky—in the Northern Hemisphere, NASA's Kepler mission has already found more than 100 planets, along with strong hints of thousands more. Stars across the sky ought to be similarly laden with planets. A recent study indicated that each star hosts, on average, 1.6 planets. Exoplanets, as these strange worlds are called, are as plentiful as weeds—they crop up wherever they can. Whether any of them harbors life remains to be seen, but the odds of finding such a world are getting better.

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN ONLINE
More data in an interactive graphic at ScientificAmerican.com/dec2012/graphic-science

This article was originally published with the title "Planets Everywhere."

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