When Star Trek referred to space as the final frontier for the first time in 1966, the shows creators, cast, and viewers had no true conception of just how much lay out in the universe, waiting to be discovered. Our solar system—filled with eight planets and Pluto—defined the known range of planets. However, since 1992, advancing telescope technology has allowed NASA and astronomers around the world to discover exoplanets outside of our system. NASA recently announced 5,005 of these celestial bodies have been discovered. They released a commemorative and beautiful sonification of the rapid pace of discovery over the past three decades.
Exoplanets are planets outside our solar system. They fall into several categories, including gas giants like Jupiter. Planets like Earth are terrestrial. Others are classed as “super-Earths.” This mysterious group is not represented among our familiar planets. The first exoplanets were discovered around a neutron star. By recording pulses of light from the star, scientists were able to determine that planets were orbiting the star, routinely blocking its light. Now, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), launched in 2018, continues this quest. The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, expected to launch in 2027, will join the mission. Meanwhile, a European spacecraft is investigating exoplanet atmospheres to learn more about these new worlds.
In celebration of the tremendous milestone of 5,000 exoplanets, NASA created a sonification of their discovery. This video shows the location of the exoplanets discovered each year with melodic tones. The music created is not a tune, but rather an acoustic rendition of human progress in space exploration. Scroll down to hear humanity's entry into the final frontier accelerate over 30 years, becoming an exciting crescendo of possibility.