Exoplanetary Science

A Tantalizing Exomoon Possibility

April 10, 2014

Gravitational microlensing is a phenomenally interesting way to find unusual things in the cosmos. A closer star can bend space around itself enough that, when it passes between us and a more distant star, a distinct brightening of the distant star’s light is apparent, a lens effect. That’s a useful phenomenon in its own right, […]

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Habitability: The Case for F-Class Stars

March 27, 2014

When it comes to habitable planets, we focus naturally enough on stars like our own. But increasing attention has been paid to stars smaller and cooler than the Sun. M-class dwarfs have small but interesting habitable zones of their own and certain advantages when it comes to detecting terrestrial planets. K-class stars are also interesting, […]

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Imaging Beta Pictoris b

March 25, 2014

This morning I want to circle around to a story I had planned to write about a couple of weeks ago. One thing writing Centauri Dreams has taught me is that there is never a shortage of material, and I occasionally find myself trying to catch up with stories long planned. In this case, the […]

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Measuring Atmospheric Pressure on Exoplanets

March 6, 2014

We haven’t talked much in these pages about atmospheric pressure when it comes to characterizing exoplanets, but recent discussions of ‘super-Earths’ and thick, hydrogen/helium atmospheres have raised the issue. All but simultaneously came the news of a paper from Amit Misra (a University of Washington graduate student) and co-authors describing a new way of detecting […]

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Red Dwarfs: Planets in Abundance

March 5, 2014

Whether or not they’re suitable for life, habitable zone ‘super-Earths’ are seeing increased scrutiny around M-class dwarf stars because the mass ratio of planet to star makes detection easier than around more massive stars. We need radial velocity surveys to help us here because planets on orbits longer than 200-300 days will definitely be out […]

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‘Super-Earths’ Problematic for Life

February 28, 2014

The Kepler announcements yesterday were greatly cheering to those of us fascinated with the sheer process of doing exoplanetology. The ‘verification by multiplicity’ technique propelled the statistical analysis that resulted in 715 newly verified worlds, and we have yet to turn it loose on two more years of Kepler data (check Hugh Osborn’s excellent Lost […]

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Kepler: Opening the Planet Verification Bottleneck

February 27, 2014

A planet like Kepler-296f is bound to get a lot of publicity. Orbiting a star half the Sun’s size and only five percent as bright, this world, twice the size of the Earth, appears to orbit in the habitable zone, where liquid water could exist on its surface. We focus so much on the potential […]

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Tau Boötis b: A ’3-D’ Look at Star and Planet

February 25, 2014

Strong evidence for water in the atmosphere of the hot Jupiter Tau Boötis b has turned up, thanks to work by Geoffrey Blake (Caltech) and graduate student Alexandra Lockwood. But what’s intriguing about the find isn’t the water — we’ve found water vapor on other planets — but the method of detection. Lockwood and Blake […]

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A Formation Mechanism for Pulsar Planets?

February 24, 2014

CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia, is announcing the detection of violent events around the pulsar PSR J0738-4042, some 37,000 light years from Earth in the constellation Puppis. This southern hemisphere constellation was originally part of a larger constellation called Argo Navis, depicting the ship made famous by the journey of […]

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PLATO: Planet Hunter Selected by ESA

February 20, 2014

Following up on yesterday’s post on Gaia, it seems a good time to discuss PLATO, the European Space Agency’s planet hunting mission, which has just been selected for launch by ESA’s Science Policy Committee. The agency’s Cosmic Vision program has already selected the Euclid mission to study dark energy (launch in 2020) and Solar Orbiter, […]

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