Category Archives: Exoplanets

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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New technique could help find exomoons orbiting distant planets

Artist's conception of exomoons orbiting an alien gas giant planet. Some exomoons, like the largest one shown here, may even be Earth-like in some ways or at least habitable. Credit: NASA

Artist’s conception of exomoons orbiting an alien gas giant planet. Some exomoons, like the largest one shown here, may even be Earth-like in some ways or at least habitable. Credit: NASA

Exoplanets orbiting distant stars are now being discovered in the thousands, with a new discovery made almost every week now. But what about exomoons? In our own solar system, moons far outnumber planets, so it should be considered likely that many of those other planets out there would also have moons. The problem is size; moons tend to be much smaller than planets in most cases, so detecting them orbiting such far away worlds is very difficult. Thankfully, however, technology is now at the point where just such detections should begin to be possible. A new technique how now been proposed that could allow astronomers to bring exomoons from theoretical concepts to reality.

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Big discovery: first Earth-sized exoplanet in the habitable zone of another star

Artist’s conception of Kepler-186f in orbit around its red dwarf star. Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

Artist’s conception of Kepler-186f in orbit around its red dwarf star. Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

Today was another big day for those interested in space exploration, and the search for other Earth-like alien worlds in particular – the first Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting another star in the habitable zone has been discovered, it was announced by astronomers with the Kepler space telescope mission.

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Exoplanet bonanza: Kepler confirms more than 700 new worlds

Illustration showing multiple-transiting planetary systems, such as those found by Kepler. Credit: NASA

Illustration showing multiple-transiting planetary systems, such as those found by Kepler. Credit: NASA

There was more exciting exoplanet news this week from the Kepler mission: the space telescope has confirmed 715 new exoplanets! This brings the current total number of such worlds to 1,766, of which 961 have been found by Kepler. There are still also 3,601 other Kepler planetary candidates awaiting confirmation.

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Kepler discovers exoplanet which ‘wobbles like a toy top’

Diagram showing the eccentric orbit of exoplanet Kepler-413b. Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI)

Diagram showing the eccentric orbit of exoplanet Kepler-413b. Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI)

Most of us are used to the (usually) gradually changing seasons here on Earth, but astronomers have found an exoplanet where the changes are much more rapid and unpredictable because the planet wobbles like a toy top. The new discovery was announced yesterday, February 4, by scientists from the Kepler space telescope mission.

The planet, Kepler 413-b, orbits a pair of stars 2,300 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. It orbits its stars, an orange dwarf and a red dwarf, every 66 days. What’s unusual is that the planet wobbles wildly on its spin axis, which can vary by up to 30 degrees every 11 years. That’s pretty extreme compared to Earth, which shifts its axis by only 23.5 degrees over 26,000 years.

This variation makes it harder to track the planet’s orbit, since Kepler studies exoplanets by watching their transits across the front of their stars as views from Earth. Because of the wobbling, the planet isn’t always visible as a transit.

“Looking at the Kepler data over the course of 1,500 days, we saw three transits in the first 180 days – one transit every 66 days – then we had 800 days with no transits at all. After that, we saw five more transits in a row,” said Veselin Kostov, principal investigator and affiliated with the Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.

Peter McCullough, a team member with the Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University, adds:

“Presumably there are planets out there like this one that we’re not seeing because we’re in the unfavourable period. And that’s one of the things that Veselin is researching: Is there a silent majority of things that we’re not seeing?”

As for habitability, Kepler 413-b isn’t a likely candidate, as it is a super-Neptune sized gas giant which orbits close to its two stars and is therefore much too hot.

Although Kepler is now non-functioning due to mechanical problems (with a possible modified secondary mission now being planned), there is still a lot of data yet to sift through and astronomers expect to still find many more exoplanets and maybe even exomoons.

This article was first published on Examiner.com.

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