Exoplanetary Science

Twinkle: Studying Exoplanet Atmospheres

February 10, 2015

A small satellite designed to study and characterize exoplanet atmospheres is being developed by University College London (UCL) and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) in the UK. Given the engaging name Twinkle, the satellite is to be launched within four years into a polar low-Earth orbit for three years of observations, with the potential for […]

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A Review of the Best Habitable Planet Candidates

January 30, 2015

The fascination with finding habitable planets — and perhaps someday, a planet much like Earth — drives media coverage of each new, tantalizing discovery in this direction. We have a number of candidates for habitability, but as Andrew LePage points out in this fine essay, few of these stand up to detailed examination. We’re learning […]

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A Mini-Neptune Transformation?

January 29, 2015

Not long ago we looked at a paper from Rodrigo Luger and Rory Barnes (University of Washington) making the case that planets now in a red dwarf’s habitable zone may have gone through a tortured history. Because of tidal forces causing surface volcanism and intense stellar activity in young stars, a planet’s supply of surface […]

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Small Planets, Ancient Star

January 28, 2015

Finding planets around stars that are two and a half times older than our own Solar System causes a certain frisson. Our star is four and a half billion years old, evidently old enough to produce beings like us, who wonder about other civilizations in the cosmos. Could there be truly ancient civilizations that grew […]

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Enormous Ring System Hints of Exomoons

January 27, 2015

Might there be gas giant planets somewhere with moons as large as the Earth, or at least Mars? Projects like the Hunt for Exomoons with Kepler (HEK) are on the prowl for exomoons, and the possibility of large moons leads to astrobiological speculation when a gas giant is in its star’s habitable zone. Interestingly, we […]

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HD 142527: Shadows of a Tilted Disk

January 14, 2015

About a year ago we looked at a young star called HD 142527 in the constellation Lupus (see HD 142527: An Unusual Circumstellar Disk). A T Tauri star about five million years old, HD 142527 has drawn attention because it shows evidence of both an inner and an outer disk, each of which may be […]

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Gemini Planet Imager: Early Success at Cerro Pachon

January 8, 2015

Working at near-infrared wavelengths, the Gemini Planet Imager, now entering regular operations at the Gemini South Telescope in Cerro Pachon (Chile), is producing striking work, including images of exoplanets and circumstellar disks. Have a look at the image below, which highlights the instrument’s ability to achieve high contrast at small angular separations. Such capabilities make […]

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Closing on Earth 2.0?

January 7, 2015

The eight ‘habitable zone’ planets we discussed yesterday appear today in a much broader context. The Kepler mission has verified its 1000th planet, and with the detection of 554 more planet candidates, the total candidate count has now reached 4175. According to this NASA news release, six of the new planet candidates are near-Earth size […]

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AAS: 8 New Planets in Habitable Zone

January 6, 2015

One way to confirm the existence of a transiting planet is to run a radial velocity check to see if it shows up there as a gravitationally induced ‘wobble’ in the host star. But in many cases, the parent stars are too far away to allow accurate measurements of the planet’s mass. What Guillermo Torres […]

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Oceans on a Larger ‘Earth’

January 5, 2015

We often think about how thin Earth’s atmosphere is, imagining our planet as an apple, with the atmosphere no thicker than the skin of the fruit. That vast blue sky can seem all but infinite, but the great bulk of it is within sixteen kilometers of the surface, always thinning as we climb toward space. […]

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