Exoplanetary Science

Huge Flares from a Tiny Star

November 24, 2015

Just a few days ago we looked at evidence that Kepler-438b, thought in some circles to be a possibly habitable world, is likely kept out of that category by flare activity and coronal mass ejections from the parent star. These may well have stripped the planet’s atmosphere entirely (see A Kepler-438b Caveat – and a […]

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Directly Imaging a Young ‘Jupiter’

November 19, 2015

Centauri Dreams continues to follow the fortunes of the Gemini Planet Imager with great interest, and I thank Horatio Trobinson for a recent note reminding me of the latest news from researchers at the Gemini South installation in Chile. The project organized as the Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey is a three-year effort designed to […]

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A Relatively Nearby Earth-Sized Planet

November 11, 2015

Given my abiding interest in red dwarf stars and the planets that circle them, I always keep an eye on what’s happening with the MEarth project. Two arrays of robotically controlled telescopes are involved in MEarth (pronounced ‘mirth’), one at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on Mt. Hopkins (AZ), the other a cluster of eight […]

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Alpha Centauri Planet Reconsidered

November 9, 2015

Finding a habitable world around any one of the three Alpha Centauri stars would be huge. If the closest of all stellar systems offered a blue and green target with an atmosphere showing biosignatures, interest in finding a way to get there would be intense. Draw in the general public and there is a good […]

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A 3D Look at GJ 1214b

November 5, 2015

An old friend used to chide me about the space program, asking good-naturedly enough why it mattered to travel nine years to get to a place like Pluto (this was not long after the New Horizons launch). ‘Just another rock,’ he would say. ‘Why go all that way to look at just another rock?’ Although […]

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Exoplanetology Beyond Kepler

November 3, 2015

Useful synergies continue to emerge among our instruments as we ponder the future of exoplanet studies. Consider the European Space Agency’s PLATO mission (PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars). Operating from the L2 Lagrangian point, PLATO will use 34 telescopes and cameras on a field of view that includes a million stars, using transit photometry, […]

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A Comparative Look at Solar Systems

October 8, 2015

With almost 2000 exoplanets now confirmed, not to mention candidates in the thousands, it’s amazing to recall that it was just twenty years ago that the first planet orbiting a main sequence star beyond the Solar System was found. Continued work on the world revealed that 51 Pegasi b is about half as massive as […]

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AU Mic: Intriguing Features in a Protoplanetary Disk

October 7, 2015

The European Southern Observatory’s SPHERE instrument is turning up interesting things around the star AU Microscopii. Surrounded by a large dusty disk, the star is young enough to raise the interest of those studying how planets form. What has turned up are structures that Anthony Boccaletti (Observatoire de Paris) describes as ‘arch-like, or wave-like,’ a […]

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Habitability Index Ranks Exoplanets

October 6, 2015

If we had a space-based instrument fully capable of analyzing an exoplanet’s atmosphere in place right now, where would we find our best targets? The goal, of course, is to pluck out the signature of biological activity, which means we’re looking at planets in the habitable zone of their stars, that region where liquid water […]

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On Habitability around Red Dwarf Stars

September 29, 2015

Learning that there is flowing water on Mars encourages the belief that human missions there will have useful resources, perhaps in the form of underground aquifers that can be drawn upon not just as a survival essential but also to produce interplanetary necessities like rocket fuel. What yesterday’s NASA announcement cannot tell us, of course, […]

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