Somewhere in the sky is a satellite doing a very tedious job. Its name is the Kepler Space Telescope, and all it does is stare at the same group of stars, an area between the constellations Cygnus and Lyra, waiting for planets to pass in front of them. Kepler’s mission will continue for several years.
Meanwhile, down on Earth, scientists are having fun analyzing the telescope’s data. In January, they discovered five new planets (named Kepler 4b, Kepler 5b, Kepler 6b, Kepler 7b, and Kepler 8b). Last week, they announced two more orbiting the same star. They’re called Kepler 9b and Kepler 9c.
Although the Kepler Space Telescope has been operational for less than a year, it has already identified hundreds of other potential planets. Once these planet candidates pass in front of their parent stars two or three more times, proving that they are in regular orbits, the scientists on the ground will start announcing the discoveries of Kepler 10b, 11b, 12b, 13b…
Hundreds of years from now, when humanity has spread across the galaxy, establishing colonies and waging intergalactic wars, the Kepler Space Telescope will be in a museum. A little plaque will say this machine helped find more planets than any other before the invention of FTL technology. Maybe the colonists on Kepler 281b will hold an annual festival celebrating the discovery of their planet.
In the distant future I’m describing, the Kepler Mission will have so many planets named after it that it will be the most common planet name. Planet Keplers will be everywhere, just as there are so many towns named Springfield. Right now, the space telescope continues its monotonous mission, but I predict its name will never be forgotten.