Life on Earth and in the Universe Documentary. A handful of ingenious methods have been used to detect the planets too far away for us to see. The first exoplanet to burst upon the world stage was 51 Pegasi b, a hot Jupiter 50 light-years away that is locked in a four-day orbit around its star. The watershed year was 1995. All of a sudden, exoplanets were a thing.
But a few hints had already emerged. A planet now known as Tadmor was detected in 1988, though the discovery was withdrawn in 1992. Ten years later, more and better data showed definitively that it was really there after all.
And a system of three pulsar planets also had been detected, beginning in 1992. These planets orbit a pulsar some 2,300 light-years away. Pulsars are the high-density, rapidly spinning corpses of dead stars, raking any planets in orbit around them with searing lances of radiation.
Now we live in a universe of exoplanets. The count of confirmed planets is 3,700, and rising. That’s from only a small sampling of the galaxy as a whole. The count could rise to the tens of thousands within a decade, as we increase the number, and observing power, of robotic telescopes lofted into space.