Exoplanetary Science

A New Look at High Obliquity Exoplanets

December 18, 2014

Looking forward from winter into spring in North America — unfortunately still a few months out — I can thank Earth’s obliquity for a seasonal change I enjoy more every year. Obliquity is the angle that our planet’s rotational axis makes as it intersects the orbital plane, which in the case of Earth is 23.5°, […]

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The Virtues of Oddly Shaped Planets

December 16, 2014

A new paper out of George Mason University tackles the subject of planets deformed by tidal effects in close proximity to their star. It’s a useful study for reasons I’ll explain in a moment, but first a digression: I once had the chance to talk physics with the late Sheridan Simon, who besides being a […]

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Young Planets, Young Stars

December 8, 2014

We’re going to be bringing both space- and ground-based assets to bear on the detection of rocky planets within the habitable zone in coming years. Cool M-class stars (red dwarfs) stand out in this regard because their habitable zones (in this case defined as where water can exist in liquid form on the surface) are […]

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Enter the ‘Mirage Earth’

December 3, 2014

A common trope from Hollywood’s earlier decades was the team of explorers, or perhaps soldiers, lost in the desert and running out of water. On the horizon appears an oasis surrounded by verdant green, but it turns out to be a mirage. At the University of Washington, graduate student Rodrigo Luger and co-author Rory Barnes […]

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Ground Detection of a Super-Earth Transit

December 2, 2014

Forty light years from Earth, the planet 55 Cancri e was detected about a decade ago using radial velocity methods, in which the motion of the host star to and from the Earth can be precisely measured to reveal the signature of the orbiting body. Now comes news that 55 Cancri e has been bagged […]

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The Transition from Rocky to Non-Rocky Planets

November 14, 2014

As I decompress from the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop (and review my notes for next week’s report), I have the pleasure of bringing you Andrew LePage’s incisive essay into a key exoplanet question. Are some of the planets now considered potentially habitable actually unlikely to support life? Recent work gives us some hard numbers on […]

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Replenishing a Proto-Planetary Disk

October 31, 2014

Because building an economically sustainable infrastructure in the Solar System is crucial for the development of interstellar flight, I was interested to learn about a game called High Frontier, which looks to combine O’Neill habitats with a steady expansion of our species outward. Have a look at the Kickstarter campaign page if the idea of […]

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Exocomets around Beta Pictoris

October 24, 2014

Imaging planets around other stars is challenging enough because their light is overwhelmed by the proximity of the parent star. But what about comets? We may not be able to see them directly, but minute variations in light can mark their passage across the stellar disk. Nearly 500 comets have been detected around the star […]

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Happy Anniversary α Centauri Bb?

October 16, 2014

A physicist and writer well-versed in the intricacies of the exoplanet hunt, Andrew LePage now turns his attention to the question of planets around Centauri B, and in particular the controversy over whether the highly publicized Centauri Bb does in fact exist. Today is the second anniversary of the discovery announcement, and we still have […]

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Mapping the Weather on WASP-43b

October 13, 2014

On Friday I mentioned transmission spectroscopy, the technique of analyzing the light of a parent star as it is filtered through a planetary atmosphere. We’ve used it on various ‘hot Jupiters’ before now — think of the much studied planet HD 209458b, where water vapor, carbon dioxide and methane have been detected and fierce upper […]

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