First of all, I grew up a fan of Star Trek and not Star Wars. Star Trek is, after all, more science-y. Now, for today’s post, I could make references to the battlestar Galactica, the good ship Tardis, Planet Express deliveries, or avoiding the Alliance throughout the Verse. Instead I’ll just submit this interactive graphic from Slate.
It compares the times needed by various nerd-loved starships/spaceships/space vehicles to reach very distant (and real) stellar destinations. Don’t worry, there is a bar chart in the end with Voyager 1 thrown in for comparison to reality. (Though I suppose they could have just made it Voyager 6.)
See, a bar chart. It fits within the scope of this blog.
Credit for the piece goes to Chris Kirk, Andrew Morgan, and Natalie Matthews.
The Kepler observatory is responsible for finding Earth-like planets in distant solar systems. It was launched only in 2009, but has been incredibly successful. Earlier this week scientists announced the discovery of Kepler 62, a star system that has five planets. Two of those planets exist within the Goldilocks zone, where conditions are just right for habitable planets (for Earth-like organisms) to form and exist. Of course, not all planets in such zones are habitable, look at Venus and Mars for examples. But still, the news is quite significant.
Over at the New York Times, Jonathan Corum plotted all the data on all the systems so far discovered by Kepler, including that new information on Kepler 62. The result is a mesmerising view of star systems beyond our own. The stars are planets are enlarged for visibility and the orbits are made a bit more circular, but the overview is still fantastic.
The chart shows the relative sizes of the stars and their temperatures and allows you to compare the orbits of the planets so far known. You can also sort the chart either by size or time of discovery. It also shows the relative times of the planets’ orbits. That is, they move…
Fans of this will remember that in 2011, the New York Times used a similar, albeit static, method to explain the discovery of planets at Kepler 20, whose planets all orbit closer to their star than Mercury to ours.
Don’t stare into the sun. It’ll burn your eyes out, kid. Okay, so maybe that’s a stretch of a reference, but, seriously, don’t. Let the professionals do it with (properly shielded) telescopes and such. This piece from the New York Times looks at a solar flare from 2012 and shows how quickly it developed. The bottom of the piece then shows the reader the frequency of solar minimums and maximums along with some explanatory graphics about just what flares and sunspots are and how they are created.
Also note the centre panel in the top row for the relative size of Earth. Yeah, who’s feeling big now? (Not me.)
Someday humanity will find a planet amongst the stars similar in temperament to Earth. One of the best star systems to explore is Gliese 581, a small and faint star some 20 light years away. Calculations show that there are a few planets that could exist in or near what is often called the Goldilocks Zone. The Goldilocks Zone describes the distance from the systems’ star where planets could exist with liquid water. But generally, one needs to take that with a grain of salt. Here in the Sol System, for example, Earth is joined by Venus and Mars. But neither of those planets appear capable of sustaining life at least at present.
The problem with Gliese 581 is that we are not yet certain as to exactly how many exoplanets form the planetary system. It might be four; it might be five. The different schools of thought lead to different conclusions about the possibility of there being liquid water. And life as we know it requires water. The New York Times looked at Gliese 581 earlier this summer and compared the two different orbital models.