Saturday, June 22, 2013

The planets of Kepler

"Billions and billions..."

Carl Sagan wasn't kidding...and the Kepler space telescope has confirmed it.  As of now, there are 2,740 planet candidates found around stars in our galaxy.  "Planet candidates" is the term used for when a black disk is observed against the bright background of a star.  While each case requires confirmation, this phenomenon is typically indicative of a planet in transit.  The picture above gives you an idea of what this looks like as well as the scale.  The upper right hand corner shows Earth and Jupiter in transit around our Sun to give the point greater emphasis.  I would recommend visiting the original NASA Kepler site in order to view the image at best magnification.

Everyone in the world should consider these findings.  You don't even have to visit the NASA page or a planetarium to do it, either.  Go outside on a clear night.  Look at the stars.  Disregard the ones such as Venus and Mars that are obviously planets from our own solar system.  Evidence is suggesting that every point of light you see in the black has multiple planets orbiting it.

Undoubtedly there are gas giants like Jupiter that have no real mass or surface.  Same likelihood goes for rocky husks like Mercury and Mars.  We therefore are forced to confront the fact, a fact most uncomfortable or even unthinkable for the given proclivities of certain parties, that there are also other planets very much like Earth.  Meaning, covered with water and fens and the like.  There must be.  A great deal of them, too.  And that means there must be life.  Festooned with life, life stranger than we can imagine.

We have identified 2,740 extrasolar planets.  The rough math that I've seen indicates that there may be upwards of 100 billion planets in our galaxy.  There are...let's say...100 billion galaxies in the known universe.  How many planets is that?  How much extraterrestrial life does that suggest?

That's our place in the universe.  Like it or not, Earth is a speck.  Anyone who sees humanity as the ultimate end-product of creation really needs to take a look at those numbers.  That is if you can get your head around them without becoming dizzy.  I know I certainly feel taken aback by the vastness of the scale.  I feel insignificant.

That's both good and bad.  It's bad for the ego, right?  This knowledge of how minute we are and how the universe will go along just fine when we're gone, thank you very much.  Then again, this scale must suggest that my mistakes are therefore minor on the universal level, right?

So I might not be so hideous and disgusting after all.

Artist's rendition of planet Kepler 62-f.

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1 comment:

  1. On Facebook, Bernard Sell said: "Freaking Alpha Quadrant is getting so crowded..."

    Ain't that the truth?


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