The final point I’d like to make is something I’m sure many readers already understand, but I think is an important point to clear up for those who haven’t been following the Kepler saga closely. (and you really should be) You’ll notice from this video that most of the planets orbit their stars at an incredibly close distance, generally within the orbits of the terrestrial planets** in this neck of the galaxy. That’s probably not a reflection of how other solar systems are typically arranged, but merely an artifact of our methods of searching for them. The techniques used are more sensitive to both larger planets, and planets closer to their stars; so the largest stars in the smallest orbits are the ones most likely to be found.
It will take some refining of these techniques before we begin finding more earth-like worlds, but we’re well on our way. This is nothing if not a fascinating time in the field of astronomy, even to those of us who are no more than fans. Kepler, and the missions that will follow it, may finally give us a destination on which to focus efforts for mankind’s first interstellar flight.
In the meantime however, we’re left only with the data, some pretty cool graphics, and our imaginations.
*You couldn’t have both the planet’s sizes and their orbit sizes in scale with one another on a tiny computer screen, or you wouldn’t be able to see the planets.
**Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars
NOTE: Much better viewed in HD, fullscreen – for detail purposes