NASA image shows a thousand potential planets

Posted by Emma Woollacott

What do more than a thousand planet candidates and their suns look like? Jason Rowe, of NASA's Kepler science team has produced an image that shows each of the 1,235 potential planets so far discovered transiting its star.

In this picture, the stars are ordered by size, with the Earth itself given pride of place below the topmost row - Jupiter and Earth are show in transit, although at this resolution earth is near-impossible to see.

Each of the possible planets can be seen as a black dot passing in front of its star; some stars have several. The stellar disks and the transiting planets are all shown at the same relative scale, with saturated star colors.

Two months ago, NASA announced that its Kepler telescope had identified about 500 new possible planets. Sixty-eight were Earth-sized planet candidates, 54 of which were in the so-called Goldilocks zone - the area in which water could exist in a liquid state, making the ability to support life much more likely. They brought the total number of possible planets up to 1,235.

The new NASA images form a sort of stock-take of what's been discovered so far. They include an orrery - an animation of each planet in orbit about its star.

Of course, there's no guarantee that when we look at these images we're seeing the future home of humanity, the location of ET, or indeed anything at all.

"Some candidates may not be planets. Instead, they may be false positives that look like transiting planets, but are not. Many scientists are doing follow-up observing with ground-based telescopes to confirm discoveries," says NASA.