March 29, 2011 at 1:34 PM ET
Two years after its launch, NASA's Kepler space telescope has detected more than 1,200 potential planets circling distant stars by tracking the slight dimming of starlight. This graphic, drawn up by Kepler science team member Jason Rowe, shows all 1,235 worlds in proper proportion to their respective stars. Some of the stars are thought to have multiple planets. To spot them all, you'll have to check Rowe's Flickr page for higher-resolution views.
The stars' sizes range from 6.1 times larger than our sun to just a third as wide. For comparison's sake, Rowe has included our own sun, off by itself beneath the top row. Jupiter appears as a speck in silhouette, and Earth is an even more minuscule speck. The colors of each star reflect how it would look if we could see it up close, outside Earth's atmosphere.
Nearly all of these candidates have yet to be confirmed as planets rather than binary-star companions or computer glitches. Kepler's scientists expect that 80 to 90 percent of them will turn out to be honest-to-goodness exoplanets. They also expect to find plenty more candidates as the mission continues, including some specks as tiny as Earth.
Check out these marvels from Kepler's planetary menagerie:
So what about our own planetary neck of the woods? A few years ago, Kokogiak blogger (and former MSNBC colleague) Alan Taylor drew up a similar graphic showing the relative size of all known solar-system bodies that are wider than 200 miles. It's a pretty wide array. Click on the thumbnail graphic below to see the full-size display, and explore our "New Solar System" interactive to learn more about the solar system's lineup.
Join the Cosmic Log community by clicking the "like" button on our Facebook page or by following msnbc.com science editor Alan Boyle as b0yle on Twitter. To learn more about Alan Boyle's book on Pluto and the search for planets, check out the website for "The Case for Pluto."