National Public Radio | 2016 Oct 24
When scientists recently announced that they had discovered a new planet orbiting our closest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centuri, they also released an artist's conception of the planet.
The picture of a craggy canyon, illuminated by a reddish-orange sunset, looked like an image that could have been taken on Mars by one of NASA's rovers. But the alien scene was actually completely made-up.
It's part of an ever-increasing gallery of images depicting real planets beyond our solar system that, in fact, no one has ever seen.
Astronomers detect these planets by looking for how a planet's gravity tugs on its star, or how a planet blocks a star's light. Over the last two decades, they've used these techniques to detect thousands of planets.
Creating popular images to show what the planets might look like has become something of a cottage industry. The artists say this work can drive home the idea that these planets truly exist — but, still, some people worry that the public might get the wrong idea. ...