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How many more discoveries in the Universe?


It is generally assumed that the potential scope of any scientific discipline is quite incalculable. Yet the discovery of the Earth's major rivers, mountains and seas, an enterprise that may have seemed endless to Ptolemy's contemporaries, is now essentially complete. The same may soon be said about the discovery of new plants and animals on Earth1. Harwit2,3 has put forward a procedure for estimating the number of observational phenomena remaining to be discovered in astronomy. Here we describe a statistical approach which supports the conclusion that the number of phenomena already discovered represents an appreciable fraction of those that can can be found.

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Harwit, M., Hildebrand, R. How many more discoveries in the Universe?. Nature 320, 724–726 (1986).

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