It’s well past the witching hour here as I write this, and I should really be going to bed. But I can’t. Because I’ve found something awesome. Sure, finding awesome things is pretty much the name of the game when it comes to this gig, but this is the sort of thing that demands I tell the world about it right now, as quickly as possible, so I can go back to fiddling around with it instead of sleeping.
From the time it was launched in 2009 until its untimely demise due to two failed retraction wheels this past summer, NASA’s Kepler space telescope was a badass exoplanet-discovering machine. You could read the reams of NASA data about those planets, but if you’re looking for a more easily digestible survey of Kepler’s accomplishments you can do no better than the gorgeous animated infographic put together by the New York Times. I’m sorry, I can’t help myself: My god, it’s full of stars…
The “Kepler’s Tally of Planets” infographic shows all the systems discovered by Kepler, complete with tiny exoplanets orbiting tiny suns. It’s got a handy size guide so you can compare the distant worlds to the planets of our own system, as well as a guide to the temperature of the stars. You can also sort the systems by size or by order of discovery, beginning with good old Kepler 1 (which was technically discovered before the mission, but which Kepler was able to verify). Even cooler, some of the planets include artist’s impressions of what they might look like based on existing data. It’s that extra touch that can really spark the imagination for any old space junkie such as myself.
If that base foundation of information about the system just isn’t cutting it for you, many of the systems include links to NYT articles about their discovery. You can go from seeing the size and orbit of exoplanet Kepler 10b, to seeing what it might look like, to clicking through and learning that it’s a sweltering-hot world 40 percent larger than Earth, but which orbits its star in only 20 hours, and much closer than even our own Mercury orbits around our sun.
Or perhaps you’d rather visit Kepler 22b, a world 2.4 times the size of Earth, which orbits in the habitable zone around its star, and which, depending on its atmosphere, could have a very cozy surface temperature of around 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Honestly, I’m packing and starting my vacation early. It’s only 600 light years away. We can play “I Spy” the whole way, the time will just fly by!
I could do this all night, and there’s a good chance I might. Hopefully you’ll discover this post at a more decent hour where you are, and hopefully not at work where you’ll have to keep your coworkers from noticing that you’ve been playing with your Keplers all afternoon.