Category Archives: Exoplanets

Astronomers observe nearly 500 exocomets around nearby star

Artist's conception of exocomets around the star Beta Pictoris. Image Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

Artist’s conception of exocomets around the star Beta Pictoris. Image Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

Comets have been in the news a lot recently, with the ongoing investigation of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by the Rosetta spacecraft and the close flyby of Mars by comet Siding Spring this past week. But there is also another comet discovery – one much further out from our solar system. With the help of the HARPS instrument, on the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) 3.6-meter telescope, astronomers have identified nearly 500 comets orbiting the nearby star Beta Pictoris, as part of an unprecedented new survey of exocomets orbiting other stars.

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New Uranus-like ‘ice giant’ exoplanet discovered

Artist’s conception of an ice-giant type exoplanet. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/G. Bacon (STScI)

Artist’s conception of an ice giant type exoplanet. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/G. Bacon (STScI)

Many different kinds of exoplanets have been found by astronomers, from giant “hot Jupiters” and “super Earths” to smaller rocky worlds like Earth or Mars. Now, another type has been discovered, an “ice giant” similar to Uranus or Neptune in our own Solar System. The planet is about 25,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius and is one of the first found that appears to be similar to the ice giant planets in our Solar System, Uranus and Neptune, which are part gas and part ice in composition. The discovery was made by an international team of astronomers, led by Radek Poleski, a postdoctoral researcher at Ohio State University.

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Astronomers create most detailed weather map yet of an exoplanet

Graphic depicting how WASP-43b orbits its star, always keeping the same hemisphere facing the star, much like how the Moon always keeps the same hemisphere facing the Earth. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and Z. Levay (STScI)

Graphic depicting how WASP-43b orbits its star, always keeping the same hemisphere facing the star, much like how the Moon always keeps the same hemisphere facing the Earth. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and Z. Levay (STScI)

Being able to find exoplanets orbiting distant stars is a major accomplishment in itself, and fine-tuning the data enough to discover details about the characteristics of those planets is quite another. Not an easy task. Astronomers have had some initial success, but now they have been able to create the most detailed weather map for any exoplanet so far.

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Astronomers witness asteroid smash-up around Sun-like star

Artist’s conception of an asteroid collision around the Sun-like star NGC 2547-ID8. Such impacts around young stars lead to planetary formation later on. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Artist’s conception of an asteroid collision around the Sun-like star NGC 2547-ID8. Such impacts around young stars lead to planetary formation later on. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Solar systems, including ours, are thought to begin as massive clouds of dust and gas surrounding young stars; over billions of years, planets form from repeated impacts of rocky debris. Asteroids and comets are left-over chunks of debris from that process which didn’t coalesce together. Such debris clouds, or protoplanetary disks, have been found around many young stars. These are solar systems still in their infancy. Now, astronomers have been able to observe the actual collision between two large rocky bodies, most likely asteroids, in a protoplanetary disk surrounding a young, Sun-like star 1,200 light-years away.

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Gliese 832c: astronomers discover another nearby potentially habitable exoplanet

Artist’s conception of Gliese 832c. Credit: PHL @ UPR Arecibo/NASA Hubble/Stellarium

Artist’s conception of Gliese 832c. Credit: PHL @ UPR Arecibo/NASA Hubble/Stellarium

As the number of exoplanets discovered continues to grow exponentially, the number of potentially habitable worlds out there continues to increase as well. Astronomers have now reported finding another one of the nearest known of these kinds of planets so far, Gliese 832c.

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Kapteyn b: a very old and potentially habitable exoplanet

Artist's conception of Kapteyn b. Credit:PHL @ UPR Arecibo/Aladin Sky Atlas

Artist’s conception of Kapteyn b. Credit: PHL @ UPR Arecibo/Aladin Sky Atlas

Astronomers have discovered the oldest known (so far) exoplanet which might be capable of supporting life; the planet, Kapteyn b, is likely more than twice the age of the Earth. The planet was found by an international team of astronomers, led by Guillem Anglada-Escude from Queen Mary University.

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Advanced ‘SPHERE’ exoplanet imager sees first light

Infrared image taken by SPHERE of a circumstellar dust ring around the star HR 4796A. The light from the star itself in the centre of the image has been blocked out. Credit: ESO

Infrared image taken by SPHERE of a circumstellar dust ring around the star HR 4796A. The light from the star itself in the centre of the image has been blocked out. Credit: ESO

Taking actual photographs of distant planets orbiting other stars is no easy task, and even in the best ones obtained so far, the planets still only look like tiny points of light. A new advancement in this area though promises to improve our view of these worlds.

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‘Mega-Earth’ planet discovered orbiting distant Sun-like star

Artist’s conception of Kepler-10c (foreground) and Kepler-10b. Credit: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics/David Aguilar

Artist’s conception of Kepler-10c (foreground) and Kepler-10b. Credit: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics/David Aguilar

Astronomers on Monday made a “big” announcement about exoplanets, and it is big – literally. Another new world has been discovered, which is quite routine now these days, but this one is different, and unexpected; a planet which is more than twice as large as Earth and about 17 times heavier, a sort of “mega-Earth” as some have referred to it. Nothing else like it has been seen before, until now. The new discovery was announced at a press conference during a meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS).

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Hazy sunsets on Titan provide clues to atmospheres on alien exoplanets

Artist’s conception of the Cassini spacecraft observing a sunset on Titan. Such studies can also help astronomers understand the atmospheres of exoplanets. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Artist’s conception of the Cassini spacecraft observing a sunset on Titan. Such studies can also help astronomers understand the atmospheres of exoplanets. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Saturn’s moon Titan is one of the murkiest places in the Solar System; its thick smog-like hydrocarbon haze in the upper atmosphere shrouds the entire moon, much like Venus’ perpetual cloud cover. Titan’s surface is completely hidden by this orange-ish haze, making it look rather bland and uninteresting. This unique environment may provide valuable clues to the nature of atmospheres on distant exoplanets, however, according to new findings from scientists with the Cassini mission.

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Kepler phase 2: planet-hunting space telescope’s new mission proposal approved

Illustration of how the new K2 mission will work, using solar pressure to help stabilize the telescope. Credit: NASA Ames / W. Stenzel

Illustration of how the new K2 mission will work, using solar pressure to help stabilize the telescope. Credit: NASA Ames / W. Stenzel

There is some good news for planet-hunters this week: The proposed K2 mission extension for the Kepler Space Telescope has been been approved by NASA. The approval, based on a recommendation from the agency’s 2014 Senior Review, means that the Kepler mission will have at least two more years to continue its search for exoplanets, after having already found thousands of planetary candidates and nearly a thousand confirmed planets to date.

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