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This Mesmerizing Animation Depicts the Orbits of More Than 1700 Planets

NASA's Kepler satellite was launched in 2009 as a part of a mission to survey the stars in our galaxy to find planets that could potentially support life. As of November 24, Kepler had observed 1705 planets across 685 systems. Using information about the equilibrium temperatures of the planets and the orbits of the systems, University of Chicago assistant professor Daniel Fabrycky created three color-coded and time-synchronized animated maps that are very cool to watch.

Now astronomer and University of Washington Ph.D. student Ethan Kruse has created a fourth version, recently posted to YouTube. The video is a digital form of an orrery, which is a mechanical model of the solar system that dates back to ancient Greece. The description explains that the planets in this latest installment are not shown to scale, but the orbits are. The animation uses a color scale based on temperature with blue (250 Kelvin) on the low end, white (750 Kelvin) in the middle, and red (1250 Kelvin) used to represent the hotter planets. The swirling colors and soft music make digesting the large amount of visual information more fun and interesting.

According to a recent study, however, Kruse may have to make a few adjustments to his cool orrery. An international team of researchers shared the results of a five-year study this week that suggests not all of the Kepler planets are what they seem. In fact, many of them many not be planets at all. Using the SOPHIE spectograph at the Observatory of Haute-Provence in France, the team found that 52.3 percent of Kepler's biggest exoplanets are actually eclipsing binary stars, and another 2.3 percent are brown dwarfs—strange objects that aren't quite stars or planets [PDF]. 

"In this work, we showed that even big, easy-to-detect planets are also difficult to deal with," study co-author Vardan Adibekyan said in a statement about the findings, which were presented at the recent Extreme Solar Systems III conference in Hawaii. "In particular, it was shown that less than half of the detected big transiting planet candidates are actually there. The rest are false positives, due to different kind of astrophysical sources of light or noise."

Planets or no, Kruse's visuals are cool, and we can't stop watching them.

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Amy Meredith, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
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You Can Still Visit This Forgotten Flintstones Theme Park in Arizona
Amy Meredith, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Amy Meredith, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Like many pop culture institutions of the 20th century, Hanna-Barbera’s The Flintstones hasn’t been relegated to just one medium. The animated cast of America's favorite modern Stone Age family sold cigarettes, starred in a live-action 1994 film, and inspired all sorts of merchandise, including video games and lunchboxes. In 1972, it also got the theme park treatment.

Bedrock City, located 30 minutes from the Grand Canyon in Williams, Arizona, was the brainchild of Linda and Francis Speckels, a married couple who bought the property and turned it into a 6-acre tourist attraction. Concrete houses were built to resemble the Flintstone and Rubble residences and are furnished with props; a large metal slide resembles a brontosaurus, so kids can mimic the show’s famous title credits sequence; and statues of the characters are spread all over the premises. The site also doubles as an RV campground and parking site.

A Flintstones theme park house
Matthew Dillon, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

A statue of Bam-Bam at the Flintstones park in Arizona
Matthew Dillon, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

A statue of Wilma Flintstone at Bedrock City in Arizona
Matthew Dillon, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When it first opened, Bedrock City employed actors to stay in character, but the remote location proved challenging to retain both employees and visitors. Over the past four decades, it's had a steady stream of tourists, but not enough to turn a huge profit. Atlas Obscura reports the attractions are in various stages of disrepair.

Linda Speckels put the property up for sale in 2015 with an asking price of $2 million, but it has yet to sell. One possible hold-up: The new owner would have to negotiate a fresh licensing deal with Hanna-Barbera and Warner Bros. for the right to continue using the show’s trademarks. (A separate Flintstones park in South Dakota, owned by another member of the Speckels family, was sold and closed in 2015.) With its proximity to the Canyon, the 30 total acres could be converted into almost anything, from a mall to a golf course. For Flintstones enthusiasts, the hope is that the park’s unique attractions won’t be reduced to rubble.

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Carlo Allegri/Getty Images
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Watch Terry Gilliam's 1968 Animated Christmas Card
Carlo Allegri/Getty Images
Carlo Allegri/Getty Images

In 1968, future Monty Python member Terry Gilliam was kicking around London, working as an animator. He was asked to put together an animated segment for a Christmas show, so he hopped over to the Tate and photocopied a bunch of Victorian Christmas cards for inspiration. The resulting film, The Christmas Card, is brilliant, bizarre, and delightful. Enjoy some pre-Python madness from the master:

If you liked that, check out Terry Gilliam explaining his animation technique in 1974.

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