For hundreds of years, the only planets that were discovered were those within our own solar system. By the early 1990s, however, the first planets started to be officially discovered and confirmed outside our solar system. The confirmation of these exoplanets led to a significant increase of interest in the field and optimistic expectations of the forthcoming yields of exoplanets from new missions designed to find these objects. The rate of exoplanets discoveries has continued at an ever-quickening pace and has been referred to as Mamajek’s Law, similar to the fashion in which Moore’s law describes the complexity of integrated circuits as doubling roughly every year.
Now, Michael Lund in his recent paper have extended the core concept underlying Mamajek’s Law to look not just at the number of planets that have been discovered, but also the total masses of these planets, using the NASA Exoplanet Archive’s data set on measured and calculated planetary masses. He found that at the current rate, the number of planets is doubling roughly every 39 months, and the cumulative number of exoplanets (Nplanets) which can be represented by the following equation:
is doubling slightly slower at roughly every 52 months, likely reflecting a shift away from Hot Jupiters as the dominant exoplanets being found.
He also showed that while in the short term the implications of Moore’s Law and Mamajek’s Law simply suggest that we will see much faster computing power and many more exoplanets in the near future, respectively, the long term consequences can be more serious.
“The long term consequences of these laws has always been ignored by astronomers over the last few decades, and if we keep ignoring it.. We will see very serious consequences in future.”— told Michael Lund, author of the study.
This has largely been ignored over the last few decades in astronomy, and it has been noted that scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should. A future consequence of the rapid increase in computing capabilities has been discussed in the last few decades and is known as the impending Technological Singularity, such a rapid breakthrough in technology that it will mark the end of the human era on Earth. Astronomy, in contrast, has been familiar with the consequences of singularities for a somewhat longer period of time but has not applied this concept to the growth of exoplanets.
Now, in this work, Michael Lund extended the consequences of the increasing rate of new planets beyond the immediate future and considered the total mass of known exoplanets. Specifically, he addressed how long this rate of new exoplanets can last before the added mass from new planets is so great that it manifests as a black hole.
“We have only about 230 years until the mass within 10 kpc of the galactic Center satisfies the condition to create a singularity”— told Michael Lund, author of the study.
They showed that, effectively all exoplanets have been found within 10 kpc of the center of the Milky Way. At the exponential rate that new exoplanets are contributing mass, the total mass within that radius will exceed the necessary minimum mass to form a black hole in about 230 years (ie in year 2252).
“The full consequences of this are open for speculation due to the number of questions that remain regarding the nature of black holes, but just like those black holes, if we get too close to this fate it will become inescapable.”
Reference: Michael B. Lund, “The Existential Threat of Future Exoplanet Discoveries”, ArXiv, pp. 1-7, 2021. https://arxiv.org/abs/2103.17079
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