We asked iREx’s young astronomers: Which chapter in the history of exoplanets is important?

Artist's rendering of the James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: alex-mit (Getty Images), NASA. Filter by Canva.
Artist's rendering of the James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: alex-mit (Getty Images), NASA. Filter by Canva.

To introduce you to our young researchers, we conducted a series of flash interviews throughout the 2022-2023 academic year, to which all our master’s and doctoral students and researchers were invited to respond. In recent months, we’ve been posting portraits on Facebook under the keyword #iRExFlashInterviews

In this third article in a series of four, we compile the various responses received from these up-and-coming young scientists to the question:

Which chapter in the history of exoplanets do you think is important?

From right to left, top to bottom: Alexandrine L’Heureux, André Beaudoin, Anne Boucher, Ariane Deslières, Caroline Piaulet, Charles Cadieux, Charles-Édouard Boukaré, Chris Mann, Clémence Fontanive, Dereck Lizotte, Dominic Couture, Érika Le Bourdais, Etienne Artigau, Frédéric Genest, Giang Nguyen, Jared Splinter, Jonathan St-Antoine, Katherine Thibault, Keavin Moore, Kim Morel, Leslie Moranta, Lisa Dang, Loïc Albert, Marylou Fournier Tondreau, Michael Matesic, Neil Cook, Olivia Lim, Pierre-Alexis Roy, Romain Allart, Simon Delisle, Thomas Vandal and Vigneshwaran Krishnamurthy.


Lisa: The discovery of the first hot Jupiter, 51 Pegasi b! Before its discovery, the Solar System was the sole inspiration for theories of planetary system formation and evolution! The existence of 51 Peg b, a giant exoplanet very close to its star, couldn’t be explained by the popular theories of the 1990s. It forced us to revise our knowledge! To me, it’s a great example of the evolution of science!

Charles: The arrival of the first space missions dedicated to exoplanet detection using the transit method. The Kepler mission allowed us to increase the number of known exoplanets sevenfold in just a few years, going from around 500 in 2010 to 3500 in 2016! From this large number of known exoplanets, we’ve learned that our Solar System is quite different from others!

Jonathan S.-A.: The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). It’s the first space telescope with an instrument specifically designed to observe the atmospheres of exoplanets!

Anne: I believe we are just entering the most important chapter in the history of exoplanets! With the arrival of the JWST and the upcoming giant telescopes on Earth, we will likely be able to determine whether some rocky exoplanets have an atmosphere and whether they harbor life! But what I find particularly exciting is the thought that we will surely discover things we didn’t expect at all and couldn’t even imagine.

Étienne: Right now… well, tomorrow morning when I go to the office. We’re living in an absolutely fantastic era in exoplanet research, and I’m convinced that the young people working with us now will one day nostalgically recount memories of this time. We’re moving beyond the initial exploration of the field; we now have the tools to study exoplanets and are truly entering a phase of detailed study of a variety of planets. We’re just starting to take spectra of Earth-like exoplanets, and in 10 to 20 years, we’ll have direct images of planets around the nearest stars to the Sun!

Pierre-Alexis: The present chapter! With the start of JWST’s operations last year, exoplanet science has entered a new chapter in its history. JWST’s capabilities now allow us to tackle questions that were impossible to address with the previous generation of telescopes. Even the first set of data from the gas giant WASP-39 b, a so-called “classic” planet, has surprised us with the molecular signatures detected in its atmosphere!

Érika: I think the most important chapter is still ahead of us! The James Webb Space Telescope is still in its early stages, and a wealth of data is yet to be analyzed. We’re making surprising discoveries every day, and our knowledge is small in the face of everything that awaits us!

Michael M.: We live in a time where we can equip our space telescopes (TESS, JWST, Roman, PLATO, etc.) with unprecedented technological precision, study capabilities, and data collection. This allows us to make scientific discoveries that previous generations could only dream of!

Dereck: We’re living in this era! I believe history will remember this chapter of precise determination of exoplanet atmospheres as the period that truly advanced our understanding of planets and their atmospheres. The times ahead are promising!


If you want to hear other iREx astronomers discuss this question, watch our video Histoire des exoplanètes from the Des exoplanètes et nous series (French with English subtitles available) :

To read our astronomers’ answers to other questions, see the other articles in the series: