June 24, 2010

Exoplanetary Singularities

A courtier presented the Persian king with a beautiful, hand-made chessboard. The king asked what he would like in return for his gift and the courtier surprised the king by asking for one grain of rice on the first square, two grains on the second, four grains on the third etc. The king readily agreed and asked for the rice to be brought. All went well at first, but the requirement for 2 to the power of [n − 1] grains on the nth square demanded over a million grains on the 21st square, more than a million million (aka trillion) on the 41st and there simply was not enough rice in the whole world for the final squares.”

For over three years now since I started following the developments in the subject of exoplanets, I've been saying that the rate of discovery of exoplanets is progressing exponentially. In 2008, around 60 exoplanet discoveries were made. in 2009, we saw over 85 new planets. Suddenly, with Kepler’s impending release of over 700 new exoplanet candidates, it is apparent that we are currently at the event horizon of planetary discoveries.

The Singularity is near. But the fact is that there’s many of them, Singularities. And two of them are close at hand in the field of Exoplanetology.
The first singularity in planetary science is the discovery of the first earth-like world. The next is the detection of life on exoworlds. Perhaps the third is the actual discovery of extraterrestrial life. And the march goes on. But what happens after you enter these Singularities? No one really knows for sure. They are great upheavals in humanity’s history that heralds new ways of thinking. Keep your mind open, and your eyes wide open. Brace yourselves for brave new worlds.