The Fight Over Who Really Found the First Exoplanet

Astronomers are almost ready to declare the winner of a decades-old planetary race.

first exoplanet

Exoplanets, nowadays, are commonplace. Impossibly hot gas giants, rocky super-Earths and prolific seven-planet systems have captivated scientists and the public alike. So it may be hard to remember only 30 years ago, when every new claim of a world outside the solar system was revolutionary and met with disbelief.

In that uncertain era, one massive object danced along the boundary between planets and stars. The astronomers who discovered the object played it safe and classified their newfound world, dubbed HD 114762b, as an obscure type of pseudo-star. A few years later, astronomers discovered two worlds orbiting another star, a pulsar named PSR 1257+12, and that was that — the era of uncertainty was over and the first exoplanets had been found, destined for the history books.

But what if that history is wrong? While the two pulsar planets got all the glory, the real first exoplanet may have languished in obscurity: New data and better instruments mean astronomers are increasingly suspicious they made the wrong call about HD 114762b all those years ago.

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