2011 will be remembered as the year that put exoplanets on everybody's starmaps. Though we'd discovered planets beyond our solar system before, this year astronomers offered more evidence than ever that our universe is packed with exoplanets - some of which might be very like our own rocky, waterlogged world. Here are ten images I created of the year's most incredible exoplanet discoveries.

Admittedly this is a very subjective list. What I think is an extraordinary exoplanet is one that would provide an extraordinary sight to a future visitor. And, of course, what might look totally cool and what is most interesting scientifically may be two different things. Happily, the two criteria are far from being mutually exclusive.

Ron Miller is a science artist. Visit his website here.


1. GJ 3634b is a red-hot super-Earth orbiting perilously near its red dwarf star.

2. Gleise 370b is a super-Earth orbiting just on the inner edge of the Goldilocks zone surrounding its orange dwarf star.


3. HAT-P-32b is a red-hot planet that is less massive than Jupiter while still being twice as large, making it the fluffiest planet known.

4. HIP 7853b may be a brown dwarf. It orbits a hot blue star 18 times the distance Pluto orbits the sun.

5. Kepler 10b was the first confirmed rocky planet to be discovered. Only half again larger than the Earth, it orbits its star so closely that it's hot enough on the surface to melt iron.

6. Kepler 16b was the first planet to be found orbiting a binary star.

7. Kepler 21b, another near-Earth-sized planet, has a surface heated to a blazing 3000 degrees F (1648 C).

8. Kepler 22b is a super-Earth that lies snugly within its star's Goldilocks zone, making liquid water on its surface a real possibility.

9. PSR J1719-1438b is a planet orbiting near a pulsar. One model has the carbon-rich world made largely of diamond.

10. WASP 43b is a super-Jupiter orbiting so close to its star that tidal forces are tearing it apart.