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NASA-Created Travel Posters For Real Exoplanets Make Us Want To Book A Trip

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If you’re a fan of GFR, there’s a good chance you grew up dreaming of leaving footprints in alien sand, watching a sun other than our own sink below a mysterious horizon. Even though the prospect of venturing beyond our homeworld still seems impossibly distant for most of us, it’s a dream that lingers. If you’re forever dreaming about posting #yolo from the crest of Olympus Mons, these lovely travel posters mocked up by NASA are only going to make things worse…because they represent exoplanets discovered by the Kepler telescope, real destinations that you could, if you happened to have a starship lying around, actually visit.

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Twice as big in volume as the Earth, HD 40307g straddles the line between ‘Super-Earth’ and ‘mini-Neptune’ and scientists aren’t sure if it has a rocky surface or one that’s buried beneath thick layers of gas and ice. One thing is certain though: at eight time the Earth’s mass, its gravitational pull is much, much stronger.

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Real-Life Exoplanets Brought To Life By Talented Artists

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ExomoonsOne of the most exciting scientific developments of recent years has been the ever-ballooning number of exoplanets we have discovered, many with tantalizing details that make it easy to forget how very far away they are. I know there’s little to no chance that I’ll ever get to see even footage sent back from one, but simply confirming that they’re out there has taken a little slice of the science fiction I grew up on and made it real. The fact that there are so many, and that they are so different, helps me believe that our species will someday visit some of them, even if that only occurs long, long after I’m gone. (Assuming I’m not an immortal post-human disembodied mind adrift in the infocloud. Which I would be pretty okay with, actually.) Still, in the meantime I can appreciate those distant worlds via the works of people with artistic talent to spare.

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Scientists Discover Earth-Sized Exoplanet That Could Support Life

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planetEach second that goes by is another step towards a great discovery, even when there’s a big huge jerk distance of 490 light years that makes the discoveries almost impossible. For the first time ever, scientists have identified an exoplanet that is both Earth-sized and within the habitable zone of its star, making it a prime candidate to produce life. Now all we need to do is build an autonomous drone that looks exactly like Michael Fassbender and get the hell over there. Oh yeah, the 490 light years.

You won’t soon be forgetting the name of Kepler-186f, which just became our best chance of finding someone else in the universe, though it probably won’t happen anytime even relatively soon. It’s going to take another generation or two of space telescopes before we reach the capability of getting a really good look at the exoplanet. With the Kepler telescope no longer functioning properly, there’s no chance of further study at this point, unless of course Kepler-186f’s inhabitants start waving around some extremely large semaphore flags. But let’s not focus on the negative.

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NASA Finds 715 New Exoplanets Beneath The Universe’s Couch Cushions

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nasa exoplanetsMuch like an over-the-hill cinematic boxer, everyone had pretty much given up on the Kepler Telescope once its instruments started to malfunction a while back. Though steps are being taken to give it different duties, there is still a seemingly endless stream of data that Kepler has already provided scientists. Delving through this massive chunk of information astronomers keep finding new things. The latest discovery involves the identification and verification of 715 exoplanets, which is the largest batch of new planets ever found, and brings the total sum up to almost 1,700. I guess I should have started off with a better comparison than Rocky.

The research team responsible for this exciting find—led by Jack Lissauer, planetary scientist at NASA‘s Ames Research Center—was analyzing data from May 2009 to March 2011, Kepler’s first two years of operation. They honed their search to only include stars with more than one potential planet, at which point a statistical technique called “verification by multiplicity” was used to determine the probability of planets surrounding those stars. A few thousand of the 150,000 stars observed have confirmed planets orbiting them, and a study of the data revealed that planets are not just randomly or equally distributed, but that some stars are far more likely to have multiple planets than others. And then somebody sprinkled some magic dust on a pair of ancient dice and the number 715 floated in the air above the dice. Or maybe they did something more technical.

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ESA’s Cosmic Vision Includes New Planet-Hunting Mission

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PLATO

NASA likes to boast about its planet-hunting capabilities thanks to both the Kepler and the Hubble telescopes. But NASA’s not the only organization looking to identify new planets in the cosmos. The European Space Agency (ESA) conducts its own searches from across the pond, and they recently selected the PLATO (Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars) mission to join its 10-year Cosmic Vision programme.

In broad terms, the Cosmic Vision programme strives to push the foundation it has built in space science into a more contemporary, forward-thinking realm by foreseeing and addressing the challenges of the future. The overarching goals of the programme include identifying scientific challenges, prioritizing space research, figuring how how to marshal resources to achieve the maximum return on investment, maintaining Europe’s competitive technological status, and reinforcing ESA’s ability to advance space science.

PLATO, a space-based observatory, addresses these goals by focusing on the conditions necessary for planetary formation (link?) as well as how the Solar System formed, functions, and compares to other systems. Its particular specialty is identify Sun-Earth analogue systems using 34 distinct telescopes and cameras, PLATO will search for planets the same way Kepler does–by monitoring roughly a million stars and looking for the small but consistent reductions in brightness that signify a planet passing in front of them.

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Exoplanet Infographic Tracks All The Worlds Discovered By The Kepler Telescope

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KeplerIt’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…