30 January 2012


NASA has announced that the Kepler Space Observatory has identified "11 new planetary systems hosting 26 confirmed planets.  These discoveries nearly double the number of verified Kepler planets and triple the number of stars known to have more than one planet that transits, or passes in front of, its host star .... The planets orbit close to their host stars and range in size from 1.5 times the radius of Earth to larger than Jupiter .... The planets orbit their host star once every six to 143 days.  All are closer to their host star than Venus is to our sun."  For reference, Venus orbits an average of about 68 million miles from the sun, and the Earth about 93 million miles.  That's a pretty tiny volume of space to be populated by so many planets, some of them more than twelve times the diameter of Earth.

Here is a link to the NASA announcement, which explains the planetary systems more fully, and comes with two embedded videos ~ one is an overhead view of all the systems with more than one planet, showing the relative speeds of planetary motion;  and the other is an animation showing the difference between planetary transit timing of single and multiple planetary systems.  It's fascinating stuff.  Like the Hubble Space Telescope, Kepler is producing images and information that are priceless.  The image above (click to enlarge) portrays Kepler's search area set within the vast reaches of our Milky Way galaxy ~ an area so small, it is not unlike exploring the ocean by examining a bucket of water on the beach.  We live in marvelous times.

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