Step aside, Star Trek, and make room for the real final frontier shenanigans, because NASA’s Kepler space telescope, although retired, is still spilling the cosmic tea long after its prime. It’s like that one employee who retired but still comes to every office party. This time, Kepler has dropped the mic with a scorching seven-planet system reveal that makes our Solar System look like a chilly walk in the park.
Ladies, gentlemen, and celestial beings, welcome to Kepler-385, a neighborhood where the term ‘hot property’ takes on a quite literal meaning. Each of these seven sizzling siblings receives more radiant face-suns than any beachgoer in our own planetary family. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill rocky Earthlings or gargantuan gas-balloons like Jupiter, oh no. These planetary wonders are something of a middle child, larger than Earth but not quite hitting the hefty Neptune mark. Think of them as the Goldilocks of exoplanets, but if Goldilocks was into sunbathing, really close to the sun.
Jack Lissauer, a brainy chap from NASA’s Ames Research Center and a man who probably has his mail forwarded directly to the edge of the cosmos, spearheaded the latest report. “We’ve assembled the most accurate list of Kepler planet candidates and their properties to date,” he says, which is science-speak for ‘We’ve nailed it, folks!’ Kepler’s mission might be history, but its legacy is throwing us planetary curveballs that even the best cosmic batters couldn’t foresee. At the heart of Kepler-385 is a star that’s basically the Sun’s slightly buffer and hotter cousin. The first two planets, snuggled closer than a pair of over-friendly subway commuters, are likely rocky with potential wispy atmospheres – the cosmic equivalent of wearing a light jacket in a sauna. The outer five, twice the size of Earth, are probably sporting thick, gassy atmospheres, because why not add layers when you’re living next to a stellar furnace?
What’s truly impressive about this exoplanet edition of ‘Keeping Up With the Cosmos’ is the detail we’ve managed to glean from a catalog that’s not just throwing out numbers but serving up a galaxy-wide menu of planetary delights with accuracy as the main course.
The catalog is like the director’s cut of the universe, with improved star measurements and planetary paths that reveal a simple cosmic truth: the more the merrier, and also, the more circular the orbits. Who knew space liked geometry so much?
Kepler may have closed its eyes in 2013, with a retirement run—fashionably titled K2—until 2018, but its data legacy is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s like finding out there’s bonus footage of your favorite movie, except the movie is the universe, and the bonus footage is full of more planets than stars. This new study is like a high-definition, wide-angle snapshot of these far-flung systems, delivering us a cosmic gallery that would make even the Hubble blush.
The hot-off-the-press research paper, aptly named “Updated Catalog of Kepler Planet Candidates: Focus on Accuracy and Orbital Periods,” is about to grace The Journal of Planetary Science with its presence. So for all you space enthusiasts, get ready for a deep dive into what feels like an episode of MTV Cribs: Universe Edition, starring Kepler-385 and its seven scalding planets, coming soon to a journal near you.