Quick! Identify this image:
Although they may look like speckled eggs, these are alien worlds!
What we’re seeing are just a few of the 1,235 exoplanet candidates identified since 2009 by NASA’s Kepler observatory. Before Kepler, about 500 exoplanets total had been discovered, painstakingly, one-by-one, over more than a decade. This shows how the pace of discovery can dramatically increase as new tools come online.
The “eggs” above are stars arranged in size order. The “speckles” are planets in silhouette. The entire image, created by a scientist named Jason Rowe, can be seen here.
On this scale, our own sun would look like this:
The big speck is Jupiter, and Earth is supposedly also in the image but I can’t even tell which tiny pixel it’s supposed to be.
Based on the information the Kepler project has gathered so far, astronomers are estimating that there may be as many as 50 billion planets in the Milky Way galaxy with 2 billion of those being about the size of Earth, maybe 10 million of which could be in a range to hold liquid water necessary for the development of life.
You can participate in your own Easter egg hunt in space at Planethunters.org, a crowdsourced project using Kepler data to find some of the exoplanets that Kepler’s automated algorithm may have missed.