Exoplanetary Science

Sunset at Titan: The Problem of Haze

May 29, 2014

Given the high quality imagery returned by Cassini on an almost routine basis, it’s interesting to remember how little we knew about Saturn’s moon Titan back in November of 1980, when Voyager 1 made its closest approach to the planet. Think of the options the Voyager 1 team had in front of it. The craft […]

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Exomoons: A New Technique for Detection

May 21, 2014

A friend asked me the other day whether my interest in exomoons — moons around exoplanets — wasn’t just a fascination with the technology of planet hunting. After all, we’ve finally gotten to the point where we can detect and confirm planets around other stars. An exomoon represents the next step at pushing our methods, […]

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A New Marker for Planet Formation

May 20, 2014

Given how many planet-hosting stars we’re finding, any markers that can tell us which are most likely to have terrestrial worlds would be welcome. New work out of Vanderbilt University is now providing us with an interesting possibility. Working with the university’s Keivan Stassun, graduate student Trey Mack has developed a model that studies the […]

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GU Piscium b: Tuning Up our Imaging

May 19, 2014

How do you go about characterizing a directly imaged planet around another star? In the absence of a transit, one way is to apply theoretical models of planetary formation and evolution to the light spectrum you’re working with. When a team of researchers led by Marie-Ève Naud (a graduate student at the Université de Montréal) […]

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Proxima Centauri Transit Search to Begin

May 6, 2014

Anyone who follows this site is well aware of David Kipping’s work as Principal Investigator of The Hunt for Exomoons with Kepler, which sifts through the voluminous Kepler data in search of exoplanet satellites. Now based at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), David lists a number of research interests including the study and characterization […]

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Night and Day on β Pictoris b

April 30, 2014

Writing yesterday about Kevin Luhman’s discovery of another cold brown dwarf in the stellar neighborhood reminded me of work we discussed earlier this year in which the weather on the surface of Luhman 16 B was mapped. This was done using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (see Focus on the Nearest Brown Dwarfs), […]

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Luhman’s Latest: A New, Nearby Brown Dwarf

April 29, 2014

Kevin Luhman (Pennsylvania State University) has focused much of his research on the formation of low-mass stars and brown dwarfs in star-forming regions near the Sun. This involves working with relatively young stars, but Luhman is also on the alert for older objects, very cool brown dwarfs in the solar neighborhood. Brown dwarfs cool over […]

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55 Cancri A: Stable Orbital Solutions

April 24, 2014

We’re developing a model for the fascinating planetary system around the binary star 55 Cancri, a challenging task given the complexity of the inner system in particular. What we have here is a G-class star around which five planets are known to orbit and a distant M-dwarf at over 1000 AU. Have a look at […]

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Enter the ‘Anti-Transit’

April 22, 2014

Gravitational lensing is a technique rich enough to help us study not only distant galaxies but exoplanets around stars in our own Milky Way. As gravity warps space and time, light passing near a massive object takes the shortest route, from our perspective seeming to be bent by the gravitational field. Inside the Milky Way, […]

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Two Takes on Habitability

April 21, 2014

Last week’s announcement about Kepler-186f presented a world that is evidently in the outer reaches of its star’s habitable zone, with the usual caveats that we know all too little about this place to draw any conclusions about what is actually on its surface. Is it rocky, and does it have liquid water? Perhaps, but […]

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