Exoplanetary Science

Planet in Widest Orbit Yet Discovered

January 26, 2016

Free floating planets — planets without any star — are exotic things, presumably thrown out of their original solar system by gravitational interactions with other worlds. But the line between such wanderers and bound planets isn’t always clear. A case in point is the object 2MASS J2126, found in an infrared sky survey and at […]

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Proxima Centauri & the Imagination

January 25, 2016

My essay Intensifying the Proxima Centauri Planet Hunt is now available on the European Southern Observatory’s Pale Red Dot site. My intent was to give background on earlier searches for planets around the nearest star, leading up to today’s efforts, which include the Pale Red Dot work using HARPS, the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet […]

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Viewing Pluto Over Time

January 20, 2016

Knowing that the data from New Horizons continues to arrive gives me a warm feeling about the months ahead. Below we have the highest resolution color image of one of the two potential cryovolcanoes found on the surface during the Pluto flyby last summer. This is Wright Mons, some 150 kilometers across and 4 kilometers […]

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Pale Red Dot: Proxima Centauri Campaign Begins

January 18, 2016

A new observational campaign for Proxima Centauri, coordinated by Guillem Anglada-Escudé (Queen Mary University, London), is about to begin, an effort operating under the name Pale Red Dot. You’ll recall Dr. Anglada-Escudé’s name from his essay Doppler Worlds and M-Dwarf Planets, which ran here in the spring of last year, as well as from Centauri […]

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Solid Results from ‘Second Light’

January 11, 2016

If they did nothing else for us, space missions might be worth the cost purely for their role in tuning up human ingenuity. Think of rescues like Galileo, where the Jupiter-bound mission lost the use of its high-gain antenna and experienced numerous data recorder issues, yet still managed to return priceless data. Mariner 10 overcame […]

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HD 7449Ab: Choreography of a Planetary Dance

January 7, 2016

Given this site’s predilections, it’s natural to think of Centauri A and B whenever the topic of planets around close binary stars comes up. But systems with somewhat similar configurations can produce equally interesting results. Take what we’re finding around the G-class star HD 7449, some 127 light years from our Sun. In 2011, a […]

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Wolf 1061c: A Nearby Habitable Zone Planet?

December 22, 2015

At no more than 14 light years away, Wolf 1061 gains our attention with the discovery that this small red dwarf hosts three planets, in orbits of 4.9, 17.9 and 67.2 days respectively. Of particular interest is Wolf 1061c, which appears to be within the habitable zone, defined here as the region in which it […]

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Where Are the Jupiter Analogs?

December 18, 2015

Are Solar Systems like ours commonplace? One way of answering this is to look at the role of planets like Jupiter, which may have helped to determine the habitability of the inner planets. But worlds like Jupiter in orbits around 5 AU do not appear to be the norm, as Andrew LePage points out in […]

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Naming New Worlds

December 16, 2015

I can only wonder what Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra would have thought of the idea that a distant star would one day be named for him. I wonder, too, what the Spanish novelist (1547-1616) would have made of the idea that planets circled other stars, and that planets around the star named for him would […]

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‘Hot Jupiters': Water Depletion Explained

December 15, 2015

Planets that transit across their star as seen from Earth allow us to use transmission spectroscopy to study their atmospheres. The idea is straightforward: Even though we can’t see the planet at optical wavelengths, we can examine the starlight that travels through its outer atmosphere during the transit. Each atmosphere leaves its own signature, and […]

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