Blog update: new RSS feed

There is a new RSS feed for the blog - http://feedpress.me/themeridianijournal – trying out FeedPress as an alternative to the regular, default feed. Please update if you were using the old one, thanks!

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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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Do Pluto and Charon share the same atmosphere?

Artist’s conception of Pluto and Charon. Image Credit: ESO

Artist’s conception of Pluto and Charon. Credit: ESO

Atmospheres are, of course, a common feature of planets and even some moons. Most of the planets in our solar system and a few moons have their own unique atmospheres, but now there may be evidence for something new: a shared atmosphere between a planet and moon, a situation never seen before.

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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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Image Gallery: Pillinger Point at Endeavour crater

View of Endeavour crater from Pillinger Point. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/James Sorenson

View of Endeavour crater from Pillinger Point. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/James Sorenson

The Opportunity rover continues to send back wonderful images of its current location on the rim of Endeavour crater. This new panorama shows the view from Pillinger Point (named after the late planetary scientist Colin Pillinger). The Pillinger Point rock outcrop is on the slopes Solander Point, one of the taller peaks on the rim of the huge crater. What a view! Thanks to James Sorenson who created this panorama from the Opportunity images. The full-size image is available here. There is also a zoomable Gigapan version here.

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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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Image Gallery: Martian meteorites in Gale crater

Possible meteorite found by Curiosity, sol 640. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Possible meteorite found by Curiosity, sol 640. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity has come across what appear to be a couple of meteorites in Gale crater. No official word yet, but the consensus seems to be that these are indeed meteorites, and fairly large ones, given their similarity to other confirmed meteorites found previously by both the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. Their shininess indicates that they are likely iron meteorites. It is more common to find meteorites on Mars than on Earth, given the thinner atmosphere and slower erosion rates.

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New meteor-impact crater on Mars is largest ever found

Image of the largest fresh crater ever seen on Mars, taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Smaller craters nearby may be due to secondary impacts of smaller pieces of rocky meteorites. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Image of the largest fresh crater ever seen on Mars, taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Smaller craters nearby may be due to secondary impacts of smaller pieces of rocky meteorites. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Newly-formed, fresh meteor craters have been found on the planet Mars before, but a new one seen by the cameras on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is the largest ever seen so far.

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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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