On a cosmic scale, it can be easy to feel like humanity is alone in a vast, dead universe. And, so far as we can prove beyond a doubt, that might be the case.
But given the vastness of that universe, it just seems crazy to think that we really could be it. In recent years, thanks to rock star telescopes like Kepler, Spitzer, and the Kecks in Hawaii, it's become clear that while life as we know it on Earth, and our particular evolutionary path, could still be unique in the universe, many of the conditions here on Earth that make life possible certainly are not.
So far, researchers have used data from Kepler and other observatories to confirm the existence of over 1,700 planets beyond our own system. There's even an "Open Exoplanet Catalogue" hosted over on GitHub where anyone can parse the data.University of Leicester Theoretical Astrophysics Ph.D. student Tom Hands used the data to create the below visualization, which takes you on a fly-by of all known star systems in the universe (so far) that are orbited by confirmed exoplanets.
The planets in the video are sorted by how long it takes them to orbit their star. The planets toward the beginning of the video have the longest orbits, meaning that a single year there could be many times longer than an Earth year.
"I wanted to demonstrate the vast range of different time-scales on which exoplanets orbit their host stars, from things which orbit at many times the separation of the Earth and Sun over many hundreds of years, right down to planets which orbit so close to their star that they complete each orbit in just a few hours," Hands explained in a release from the university.
Check out the video below and let us know in the comments if you think we're drifting alone in a cosmic ocean, or if we're more like some ancient Pacific islanders, drifting alone in a great ocean but not yet in contact with the other worlds that can be found on its distant shores.