Let’s face it, when it comes to the search for planets outside of our Solar System, Earth-like worlds get all of the attention. We want to know where life may exist elsewhere in the galaxy, right? And where better than water-bearing, moderately warm, reasonably sized planets around nice, steady stars?
Even so, what is perhaps more remarkable than the search for habitable worlds is the diversity of planets scientists have found. NASA has now confirmed more than 4,000 exoplanets by two or more discovery methods, and the agency has another 4,600 candidates as potential planets.
All told, NASA has identified more than 3,000 planetary systems, finding planets of all shapes and sizes around all manner of stars. And there are some weird worlds out there. For example, there is the exoplanet TrES-2b, which is larger than Jupiter and orbits a star located 750 light years from our Sun.
This is the darkest planet scientists have discovered, blacker than coal, with an atmosphere as hot as lava. (It makes the planet Mustafar, where Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker fought a fateful duel in the movie look like a garden world).
Anyway, to mark Halloween this year, NASA has put together some splashy websites that show off these worlds and their stars, under the rubric Galaxy of Horrors and Universe of Monsters. It’s fun stuff, and unlike the movies, these are real worlds in our own galaxy, not so very far far away.