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Worlds: The Kepler Planet Candidates

by Catherine Borgeson on September 27th, 02012

Worlds: The Kepler Planet Candidates from Alex Parker on Vimeo.

Planetary scientist Alex Parker created an animation of 2,299 extrasolar planet candidates orbiting a single star.  NASA’s Kepler mission has detected these transiting planet candidates since 02009.

In reality, these planet candidates aren’t orbiting around a single star, but rather several thousand (some 1,770 sun-like stars). The video above illustrates the candidates by orbital periods, orbital distances and are drawn to scale with accurate radii—they range in size from one-third to 84 times the radius of Earth. Note that the three white rings show the average orbital distances of Mercury, Venus and Earth on the same scale.  Side-by-side, we can compare the different orbital distances from planets in our own solar system to those located elsewhere in the Milky Way, some of which are approximately 2,000 light years away from Earth.

Parker, a postdoctoral researcher in planetary science at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, writes:

The Kepler observatory has detected a multitude of planet candidates orbiting distant stars. The current list contains 2,321 planet candidates, though some of these have already been flagged as likely false-positives or contamination from binary stars. This animation does not contain circumbinary planets or planet candidates where only a single transit has been observed, which is why “only” 2,299 are shown.

While 2,299 may seem to be a lot of potential planets, these candidates were found in what is actually a tiny fraction of the sky (Kepler’s field of view covers approximately 1/400 of the sky).  “In one generation we have gone from extraterrestrial planets being a mainstay of science fiction, to the present, where Kepler has helped turn science fiction into today’s reality,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a statement back in February 02011. “These discoveries underscore the importance of NASA’s science missions, which consistently increase understanding of our place in the cosmos.”

(via io9)