NASA’s Kepler Telescope is amazing. It has confirmed discovery of more than 150 planets since it was launched in 2009.
Think about that for a second. Because of Kepler, we now know—as surely as we know the Earth revolves around the Sun, or that Pluto is no longer a planet, dammit—that there are other planets in our galaxy. We’re also starting to know a lot more about them—how big they are, how far they are from their suns, how fast they orbit.
Kelper does this by keeping its lens pointed at the same part of the sky for long periods of time, and measuring the brightness of the stars it’s looking at. When a planet passes in front of a star, it blocks some of the light from that star. When it passes behind a star, it reflects a similar amount of light. Kepler’s lenses are tuned to this dynamic, and the result is that we’ve got a newly expanded view not only of the galaxy, but of our place in it.
“Nature knows how to make rocky Earth-size planets,” according to UC Berkeley graduate student Erik Petigura, and we’re going to need some new maps to help us think about them.
Jonathan Corum at the New York Times made a lovely visualization about a week ago of each of these star/planet relationships. Each system is shown in the same scale as the others, so you get a sense of their different sizes, densities and the relative speeds that the planets are traveling around their suns.
It’s a lovely piece of work, something to get lost in, one I wish I had done. Which is what Design Envy is all about.