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What is the Importance of Exoplanets?

It is a perfectly valid question to ask what is the importance of exoplanets. What is the point in studying them? Is it worth the expense? There are several answers to this question.

Firstly, like any human endeavor such as art or exploring our own Earth (from example the deep oceans, or the highest mountains), one can ask whether it is important. Different things are important to different people and ultimately we derive satisfaction and pleasure from pursuing things that we think are important, although we may not be able to explain why. We all want to enjoy our time on Earth. For some people learning about other planets in the Universe, exploring what they and their star systems are like, and trying to understand our Universe and to search for alien life, is important. However, you are perfectly entitled to think that such a pursuit is not important. Other things will be important to you.

It is often not possible to predict what the outcomes could be of pursuing scientific research. In fact it may not even be possible to conceive of what may result from scientific reasearch. For example, the cell phone that you use is the result of hundresds of years of scientific discoveries and relentless research. Do you think that when J.J. Thomson discovered the electron in the course of doing pure physics research that he could have conceived the concept of a cell phone?

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Further consider the fact that if you went back half a million years to meet with your predecessors that they would understand the concept of a planet outside oof solar system? Of course not (even if you could communicate with them): the very concept of a planet or solar system had not even entered the collective human consciousness. Actually, now imagine that you go forward half a million years. Do you think you would be able to communicate with those future humans? Do you think those future humans would have knowledge about things that you could not even conceptualize? How do you think those future humans would have gained that knowledge? Through research.

Finally, as you know, in about 5 billion years from now the sun will expand and turn into a red giant after exhausting its hydrogen fuel. The Earth will become engulfed. Most people dismiss the idea that humans will still be around in 5 billion years and therefore do not think its important that we try to find ways to travel to and live on other planets (whether in our solar system or outside of it). But what if we are still around in 5 billion years? And what if the population becomes too large to be supported by Earth well before then? You might argue that these things won't happen for a long time so we don't need to worry about it right now. Counter to that, we can argue that we don't know how long it will take to overcome the formidable challenges and make the necessary scientific discoveries and that it may not happen if we don't work on these things now.

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