In celebration of finding over 4000 exoplanets, NASA released this awe-inspiring video plotting each planet on a digital map
January 1992 saw astronomers, Aleksander Wolszczan and Dale Frail, discover the first ever exoplanet (a planet outside our Solar System). Over the following 17 years, additional findings were rare. It wasn’t until the launch of the Kepler Space Telescope that we saw a huge increase in the number of exoplanets discovered, so much so that new planets became a daily occurrence.
The Kepler Space Telescope, named after astronomer Johannes Kepler, launched in March 2009. It was constructed with the intention to search the universe for Earth-sized planets that orbit stars similar to ours (the sun in Earths case). The mission was initially set for three and a half years, but nine years later the telescope was still operational, booting the number of known exoplanets from only 400 to over 3500! It only retired in October 2018 after it finally ran out of fuel.
The telescope was 15.3 feet long (4.7 meters) and weighed 1,052 kilograms. At the heart of the device were 42 camera sensors, specifically designed to detect alien planets passing in front of their host stars. With the use of these specialized camera sensors, the Kepler Telescope was able to monitor over 150,000 star constellations and over 4000 exoplanets.
In celebration of these numbers, NASA compiled a video plotting each exoplanet on a digital map, and it’s truly something to behold.
The video itself was created using data from NASA’s exoplanet archive, an online astronomical catalog that collects information related to the characterization of exoplanets and their host stars. The footage results are breathtaking, showing off the entire night sky with the Milky Way forming a giant “U” shape in the center. From this video, exoplanets are able to be color-coded, indicating the method in which they were found: ones that were directly imaged are shown in orange, whilst those discovered by small dips in their parents star’s brightness appear in purple.
The musical accompaniment to the video is also worth mentioning. As it starts, we’re introduced to the first exoplanet planet found in 1992. This visual is accompanied by a single note played on a piano. As the number of found exoplanets rise, the tempo of the song speeds up, until we’re eventually met with a high tempo tune that perfectly matches the speed at which each planet was discovered after 2009. It’s a beautiful reflection of success of the telescope.