We’ve had a few sporadic interactions with the Kepler Space Telescope and its discoveries over the years, but most of them, save for the recent “alien megastructure” (which Kyle Hill explained in this video, complete with a Benedict Cumberbatch toy), have been broadcasted in the form of ooh-aah poster sets featuring a select few planetary finds. We’ve marveled at Kepler-186f, “where the grass is always redder on the other side,” and taken an imaginary stroll under the twin suns of Tatooine, er, Kepler 16-b. I could probably name five-or-so Kepler exoplanets off the top of my head, but did you know the telescope has found 1,030 of them (and counting)?
To give us a better sense of where these celestial bodies sit in the universe in relation to our puny solar system, coder and astronomy graduate student Ethan Kruse tapped into NASA’s NASA Exoplanet Archive database to create this beautiful animation. Of course, the planets are not drawn to scale compared to their stars or each other (you wouldn’t be able to see them if they were), and their orbit shapes have been standardized. Still, it’s hard to observe them whirl around like starlings in some kind of interstellar murmuration without feeling very, very small.
By incorporating temperature data, the animation also illustrates just how different each system really is. Kruse explains that he’s included 1,705 planets in 685 systems, leading us to believe he’s incorporated data points from some unconfirmed planets. Should you want to take a stab at playing with the data for yourself, he’s graciously uploaded the source code here.
IMAGES: Ethan Kruse/YouTube