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In recent exoplanet meeting The Next 40 Years of Exoplanets, it was mentioned a few times that the field/topic is becoming saturated.

In what ways is it becoming saturated, and can you see the effect of this in the quality of papers being published?

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This(v5) does not contain an actual astronomy/physics question, so I'm closing it as off-topic. –  Qmechanic Dec 17 '12 at 21:19
    
@Qmechanic, well, but it is still relevant to the field, it is about the technical bottleneck to gather new data. This will be a major problem for the next 10 years since most of the planned exoplanet observer missions have been cancelled. I just voted for reopen –  lurscher Dec 17 '12 at 21:34
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closed as off topic by Qmechanic Dec 17 '12 at 21:20

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2 Answers

Not having been at the meeting, here's my take on it.

It's becoming saturated in that it's the hot topic right now where there is a lot of funding so everyone is trying to get involved to some level. There is a lot of people competing for limited resouces and there is only so much that can be done with current technology.My wife was recently on a grant review panel actually realated to this topic and there were about a dozen good proposals of which they could fund one. Definitely saturated.

This can have a couple of effects. One is that people rush to get things published and so don't spend as much time on their analysis as they should. The flip side is that competition should push the higher quality material to the top.

Another aspect of this is that we have a semi-broken funding system for research as captured in this wonderful Ph.D comic. This particular field requires (in many cases) big resources and there is a definite disparity between the various institutions around the world. Since in many cases, regardless of the field, (and I've seen this in several different grant review panels) you need to already have results to get funding, if you don't already have the resources to do the work, you cant get money to work on it. And so people who have great ideas, but happen to be at "non-connected" institutions, are many times just out of luck.

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+1 for the answer, and worthy of another +1 for a phdcomics reference. Seriously, if anyone reading this is wondering what life in grad school might be like (semi-relevant, considering the question topic), start reading that comic from the beginning. –  Andrew Jun 22 '11 at 17:42
    
Yes, I was long out of grad school before I found that comic but still laugh at it every time. My wife (an astronomy professor) posts them regularly on her board outside her office. –  dagorym Jun 22 '11 at 18:07
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For discovering and characterizing exoplanets through telescopes like the Kepler telescope - then yes - the study of exoplanets is saturated since there are so few instruments that have the sensitivities necessary in order to accurately study the properties of exoplanets (especially since you have to stare at exoplanets for a longer amount of time in order to obtain highly-accurate data).

However, there is no saturation point for studying the theory of exoplanetary atmospheres (or for doing 3D modelling of exoplanetary atmospheres). Here, there is actually plenty of room for growth, and we don't necessarily need to spend large amounts of money in order to obtain results. This is actually something that I'll be involved with soon, and something I've talked with James Kasting and others about. Here is one of Kasting's replies to one of my emails:

By 3-D modeling of habitable zone boundaries I'm referring to running 3-D climate models, like CAM, to determine the boundaries of the circumstellar habitable zone around the Sun and other stars. The primary difficulties in developing such models are: 1) getting a fast radiation code that is accurate for dense CO2/H2O atmospheres, 2) treating major constituent condensation of CO2 and H2O, and 3) parameterizing CO2 and H2O clouds. All three of these represent major challenges. I'm happy to be collaborating with Ray on this because he knows more than I do about at least two of these topics (1 and 3).

Such 3-D models are also what we need to extend Adam Edson's work to planets farther out in the habitable zone. Theory tells us that such planets will develop dense CO2 atmospheres. Such atmospheres should transport heat around to the nightside more effectively (because of their long radiative time constants), and so could make tidally locked planets even more habitable than those that Adam looked at.

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