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Everyday science

Picturing Kepler's impressive hoard of planet discoveries

29 Mar 2011 James Dacey
Courtesy: Jason Rowe/Kepler Mission/NASA

By James Dacey

Since it was launched just over two years ago, NASA’s Kepler mission has discovered 1235 planet candidates, including the recent hoard of six planets orbiting the same star. Pretty impressive, since before NASA’s planet hunter took to the skies we knew of just 330 planets most of which were solitary gas giants.

Today, NASA’s astronomy picture of the day is an attempt to visualize this glut of exoplanets and the range of different stars they orbit. The intriguing image, created by Jason Rowe from the Kepler science team, shows all 1235 candidate planets in transit with their parent stars ordered by size from top left to bottom right.

The Kepler telescope looks for slight dimming in the light of a star as a planet sweeps across our line of vision from Earth. In Rowe’s depiction, these transits are seen as silhouettes on the stellar discs, which reflect the true relative scales of the planets to their suns. Some dots are particularly small but you can get a clearer view if you click through to the original image.

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