Our place in the universe
OK, here we've zoomed out a lot, to show the entire Milky Way, along with the area Kepler has been looking at and through.
Remember that low probability we mentioned back at slide nine? Of Kepler spotting the transit of a planet across a given star? You'll recall that a transit can be seen only with the proper orientation of a planet's orbit to our line of sight, and that the probability of Kepler spying a transit among its 100,000 stars has been about 0.5 percent.
NASA says that "statistically, we can infer that every planet Kepler detects represents hundreds more planets that are out there but not detectable due to inopportune orbital orientation."
As mentioned before, Kepler has spotted 132 confirmed planets, plus 2,740 potential planets. And it's been looking at a relatively miniscule patch of the galaxy. How many hundreds, or thousands, or millions of Earth-like planets might there be?
Or here's another way of thinking about it. Kepler has discovered a fascinating variety of planetary systems, which suggest further -- perhaps infinite -- varieties. Given those differences, how many solar systems exactly like ours -- or even all that similar to ours -- might there not be?
This is perhaps Kepler's main achievement: the tweak it's given to our perception of the universe and, as principal investigator Borucki put it, our "place in it." Maybe life is far more abundant than we ever imagined -- and thus, perhaps, that much more amazing.
Or maybe it's rarer, more unique, than we might've thought -- and that much more precious.
May 19, 2013 12:01 AM PDT
Photo by: Jon Lomberg
| Caption by: Edward Moyer
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