(7 of 7)
The astronomers who are looking for planets, meanwhile, are sounding downright cocky. Butler says that he and Marcy are "close, real close" to finishing the analysis of their remaining 60 stars and that they would not be surprised to find two or more additional planets popping out of the data--perhaps in a matter of weeks. The pair will soon be heading for the Keck Telescope in Hawaii, the world's largest, to continue the search with even more powerful equipment. Mayor and Queloz, meanwhile, are back at their telescope in Europe. At the same time, dozens of other groups, using instruments ranging from the high-flying Hubble to relatively small scopes, are stepping up their activities. Predicts Marcy: "We are going to find, between us and the Swiss, 10 more planets in the next two years." Concurs Butler: "Very shortly, there could be more planets known outside the solar system than inside." Whether or not they are right, the human race has already moved closer to answering the most enduring question about its true place in the cosmos.
--Reported by Hannah Bloch/Washington and Sylvester Monroe/San Francisco, with other bureaus