Exoplanetary Science

TRAPPIST-1: Three Nearby Worlds

May 2, 2016

About forty light years from Earth in the constellation Aquarius is the star designated 2MASS J23062928-0502285, which as of today qualifies as perhaps the most interesting ultracool dwarf we’ve yet found. What we learn in a new paper in Nature is that the star, also known as TRAPPIST-1 after the European Southern Observatory’s TRAPPIST telescope […]

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Light’s Echo: Protoplanetary Disk Examined

April 28, 2016

The star YLW 16B, about 400 light years from the Earth, has roughly the same mass as the Sun. But unlike the Sun, a mature 4.6 billion year old star, YLW 16B is a scant million years old, a variable of the class known as T Tauri stars. Whereas our star is relatively stable in […]

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Focus on Alpha Centauri

April 19, 2016

At Palo Alto’s superb Amber India, I was thinking about Alpha Centauri. There are several Amber India locations in the Bay area, but the Palo Alto restaurant dishes up, among other delights, a spicy scallop appetizer that is searingly hot and brilliantly spiced. Greg and Jim Benford were at the table, Claudio Maccone and my […]

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A Young, Free-Floating Jupiter Analog in TW Hydrae

April 7, 2016

A stellar association is a loose grouping of stars of similar spectral type and age that share a common motion. About 90 percent of all stars are thought to originate as members of associations. The TW Hydrae association (TWA) is a case in point: The group is made up of about thirty young stars, each […]

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Planets in the Process of Formation

March 24, 2016

Back in 2014, astronomers used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to produce high-resolution images of the planet-forming disk around the Sun-like star HL Tau, about 450 light years away in the constellation Taurus. The images were striking, showing bright and dark rings with gaps, suggesting a protoplanetary disk. Scientists believed the gaps in the […]

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Protecting Life on the Early Earth

March 17, 2016

Kappa Ceti is a young star — 400 to 600 million years old — in the constellation Cetus (the Whale). It’s a tremendously active place, its surface disfigured by starspots much larger and more numerous than we find on our more mature Sun. In fact, Kappa Ceti hurls enormous flares into nearby space, ‘superflares’ releasing […]

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A Transiting Jupiter Analog

March 4, 2016

David Kipping and colleagues have discovered what they describe as ‘the first validated transiting Jupiter analog,’ a planet orbiting the K-class dwarf KIC-3239945. Kepler-167e is about 90 percent the size of Jupiter and orbits its star at about twice the distance that the Earth orbits the Sun. Given the fact that the star is cooler […]

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An Exoplanet Changing Over Time

February 23, 2016

Keep your eye on a program called the Hubble Cloud Atlas. This is a collaboration between fourteen exoplanet researchers around the globe that is intent on creating images of exoplanets using the Hubble Space Telescope. But while we’ve been able to directly image a small number of planets before now, the Cloud Atlas project brings […]

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WFIRST: Moving Closer to a Mission

February 19, 2016

We learned on Wednesday that the Agency Program Management Council, which works under the aegis of NASA, has made the decision to proceed with the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope. WFIRST is the next step in major astrophysical observatories after the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018, an instrument that will work […]

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Light, Dry Atmosphere of a ‘Super-Earth’

February 16, 2016

We’re probing the atmospheres of exoplanets both from the Earth and from space. Transmission spectroscopy allows us to look at the spectra of starlight at various wavelengths as a transiting planet passes first in front of its host star, and then moves behind it. Now we have news of a successful detection of gases in […]

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