Exoplanets and the Search for Habitable Worlds

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Thousands of exoplanets are known to orbit nearby stars, with further evidence that every star in our Milky Way Galaxy has planets. Beyond their discovery, a new era of “exoplanet characterization” is underway with an astonishing diversity of exoplanets driving the fields of planet formation and evolution, interior structure, atmospheric science, and orbital dynamics to new depths. The push to find smaller and smaller planets down to Earth size is succeeding and motivating the next generation of space telescopes to have the capability to find and identify planets that may have suitable conditions for life or even signs of life by way of atmospheric biosignature gases. After thousands of years of people wondering “Are we alone?”, we are the first generation in human history to be able to make quantitative progress in answering this age-old question.