NASA Kepler via Jason Rowe on Flickr
This graphic shows the 1,235 candidate planets reported so far by NASA's Kepler mission, in proportion to their parent stars. For comparison's sake, our own sun is shown as well. It's just below the top row on the right, with Jupiter and Earth silhouetted against the disk. Click on the image to see larger versions on Flickr.
Two years after its launch, NASA's Kepler space telescope has detected more than 1,200 potential planets circling distant stars by tracking the slight dimming of starlight. This graphic, drawn up by Kepler science team member Jason Rowe, shows all 1,235 worlds in proper proportion to their respective stars. Some of the stars are thought to have multiple planets. To spot them all, you'll have to check Rowe's Flickr page for higher-resolution views.
The stars' sizes range from 6.1 times larger than our sun to just a third as wide. For comparison's sake, Rowe has included our own sun, off by itself beneath the top row. Jupiter appears as a speck in silhouette, and Earth is an even more minuscule speck. The colors of each star reflect how it would look if we could see it up close, outside Earth's atmosphere.
Nearly all of these candidates have yet to be confirmed as planets rather than binary-star companions or computer glitches. Kepler's scientists expect that 80 to 90 percent of them will turn out to be honest-to-goodness exoplanets. They also expect to find plenty more candidates as the mission continues, including some specks as tiny as Earth.
Check out these marvels from Kepler's planetary menagerie:
- Planet probe spots hot prospects
- Oops! Hopes for alien Earth go poof
- A tourist's guide to the Kepler-11 planetary system
- Planetary six-pack poses a puzzle
- Probe finds planetary missing link
- Planets spotted in changing orbits
- Planet-hunter finds five lightweight worlds
- Kepler snaps its first images
So what about our own planetary neck of the woods? A few years ago, Kokogiak blogger (and former MSNBC colleague) Alan Taylor drew up a similar graphic showing the relative size of all known solar-system bodies that are wider than 200 miles. It's a pretty wide array. Click on the thumbnail graphic below to see the full-size display, and explore our "New Solar System" interactive to learn more about the solar system's lineup.
Alan Taylor / Kokogiak
This graphic shows all known solar-system bodies wider than 200 miles. Click on the image to see larger versions.
Join the Cosmic Log community by clicking the "like" button on our Facebook page or by following msnbc.com science editor Alan Boyle as b0yle on Twitter. To learn more about Alan Boyle's book on Pluto and the search for planets, check out the website for "The Case for Pluto."