If you didn’t happen to catch the unveiling of another exclusive cosmic piece we designed for The Planetary Society, place your peepers on this rectangular pendant necklace featuring images of discovered exoplanets and express a collective “oooooh….ahhhhh….” – because yeah, it’s pretty freakin’ cool!
Simplistically, an exoplanet is a planet that orbits around other stars beyond our solar system. They can be tricky to spot with a ground telescope due to the bright glare of the stars they are encircling, and said telescope has to be even more super high-tech in order to be able to see beyond Earth’s tempestuous atmosphere.
NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program has one primary goal: to discover and characterize planetary systems and Earth-like planets around nearby stars. In order to do that, scientists are developing an understanding of a) how many and b) what kinds of planetary systems are out there – like waaaaay out there.
Kepler space telescope in Astrotech's Hazardous Processing Facility; Image Credit NASA/Troy Cryder
The original Kepler mission was specifically designed to study our region of the Milky Way galaxy, and that it did! The little spacecraft, which was retired in October of last year after it ran out of fuel, observed 530,506 stars and discovered 2,662 exoplanets during its nine years of space service.
Ultimately, scientists are looking for exoplanets that show signs of possible life that we know how to interpret because, well, we haven’t done a stellar job preserving the celestial body we currently spin upon and may need to jump ship (or planets) one day in the future. They are looking within nearby space, and when I say “nearby”, I mean within approximately 20 parsecs/60 light-years from our Sun – as this is the distance we can currently explore using what we have technology-wise.
The nearest exoplanet we know of is Proxima Centauri b, which was confirmed in 2016 to orbit Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our solar system. How close is close? 4.243 light-years. Fun Fact: There are approximately 6 trillion miles/9.5 trillion kilometers in one light-year. Even if we hopped on a spacecraft that can travel five miles per second, it would take us about 37,200 Earth years to go one light-year.
Obviously, that speed isn’t feasible for human space travel – unless we want to melt our faces completely off. So, a more achievable velocity is around 20,000 miles/32,000 kilometers per hour; and at that rate of motion, it would take about 142,000 Earth years to cover the distance to Proxima Centauri. Anybody still working on finding the Fountain of Youth? ‘Cuz we gonna need it!
Even so, this is an exciting time to be alive, folks! We are learning more than ever about what else (and maybe even who else?) lives beyond our tiny egocentric orbit. With each new discovery, the collective map of the stars grows and expands – along with our understanding of the Universe (and our place in it).
This also affords us the thrilling opportunity to make new jewelry pieces that reflect our love and admiration for space discovery – so thank you for supporting our passion and our partnerships with amazing organizations like The Planetary Society! In case you're just stumbling upon us now, a portion of the proceeds from every Galaxy Jewelry Collection purchase made from our website gets sent to The Planetary Society to help fund space exploration and research. You're helping make it happen - and doing it in style!