Exoplanetary Science

Myriad Worlds, Some with Clear Skies

September 30, 2014

Like most people, I’m highly interested in the hunt for habitable worlds, planets that could truly be called Earth 2.0. But sometimes we need to step back from the ‘habitable’ preoccupation and think about the extraordinary range of worlds we’ve been finding. I’m reminded of something Caleb Scharf says in his new book The Copernicus […]

Read the full article →

Habitable Moons: Background and Prospects

September 19, 2014

While I’m in Houston attending the 100 Year Starship Symposium (about which more next week), Andrew LePage has the floor. A physicist and freelance writer specializing in astronomy and the history of spaceflight, LePage will be joining us on a regular basis to provide the benefits of his considerable insight. Over the last 25 years, […]

Read the full article →

‘Hot Jupiters’: Explaining Spin-Orbit Misalignment

September 16, 2014

Bringing some order into the realm of ‘hot Jupiters’ is all to the good. How do these enormous worlds get so close to their star, having presumably formed much further out beyond the ‘snowline’ in their systems, and what effects do they have on the central star itself? And how do ‘hot Jupiter’ orbits evolve […]

Read the full article →

Emergence of the ‘Venus Zone’

September 15, 2014

In terms of habitability, it’s clear that getting a world too close to its star spells trouble. In the case of Gliese 581c, we had a planet that some thought would allow liquid water at the surface, but subsequent work tells us it’s simply too hot for life as we know it. With the recent […]

Read the full article →

Binary Stars: The Likelihood of Planets

September 10, 2014

In Greg Bear’s novel Queen of Angels (Gollancz, 1990), a robotic probe called AXIS (Automated eXplorer of Interstellar Space) has used antimatter propulsion to make a fifteen-year crossing to Alpha Centauri. The world’s various networks of the future begin to feast on reports of what it finds, like this one: “In the past few weeks, […]

Read the full article →

Red Dwarf Planets: Weeding Out the False Positives

September 3, 2014

For those of you who, like me, are fascinated with red dwarf stars and the prospects for life around them, I want to mention David Stevenson’s Under a Crimson Sun (Springer, 2013), with the caveat that although it’s on my reading list, I haven’t gotten to it yet. More about this title after I’ve gone […]

Read the full article →

Radio Emissions: An Exomoon Detection Technique?

August 13, 2014

Here’s an interesting notion: Put future radio telescopes like the Long Wavelength Array, now under construction in the American southwest, to work looking for exomoons. The rationale is straightforward and I’ll examine it in a minute, but a new paper advocating the idea homes in on two planets of unusual interest from the exomoon angle. […]

Read the full article →

Keeping a Planet Alive

August 6, 2014

I’ve made no secret of my interest in red dwarf stars as possible hosts of life-bearing planets, and this is partially because these long-lived stars excite visions of civilizations that could have a stable environment for many billions of years. I admit it, the interest is science fictional, growing out of my imagination working on […]

Read the full article →

HK Tauri: Misaligned Protoplanetary Disks

July 30, 2014

When I was a boy in ninth grade, I asked our science teacher whether the nearest star was likely to have planets. He loved the question because it gave him the chance to explain to the class that Alpha Centauri was a binary star (we left poor Proxima out of the discussion), and that as […]

Read the full article →

‘Hot Jupiters’: Drier Than Expected

July 29, 2014

Be aware of Open Source, a radio show on Boston’s WBUR that last week did a show about exoplanets and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Earth 2.0 is available online, featuring David Latham (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), Dimitar Sasselov (Harvard University), Jason Wright (Penn State) and Sarah Rugheimer (a PhD student at Harvard studying exoplanet […]

Read the full article →