Exoplanetary Science

The Search for ‘Chaotic Earths’

March 16, 2015

As we get the next generation of space-based telescopes into operation, one of our more significant problems is going to be knowing where to look. After all, once we’ve identified potentially interesting planets for follow-up with spectroscopic analysis of their atmospheres, we’re still faced with the need to focus on the most likely targets. Telescope […]

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Planet in a Quadruple Star System

March 5, 2015

Planets in multiple star systems intrigue us particularly when we try to imagine the view from the surface. Call it the ‘Tatooine Effect,’ made to order for visual effects specialists and cinematographers. But planets like these also raise interesting issues. Lewis Roberts (JPL) and colleagues have just published a new study of the 30 Ari […]

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A Laser ‘Comb’ for Exoplanet Work

February 25, 2015

It’s been years since I’ve written about laser frequency comb (LFC) technology, and recent work out of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, the Kiepenheuer Institute for Solar Physics and the University Observatory Munich tells me it’s time to revisit the topic. At stake here are ways to fine-tune the spectral analysis of starlight […]

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Beta Pictoris: New Analysis of Circumstellar Disk

February 20, 2015

Our discovery of the interesting disk around Beta Pictoris dates back all the way to 1984, marking the first time a star was known to host a circumstellar ring of dust and debris. But it’s interesting how far back thinking on such disks extends. Immanuel Kant’s Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens (1755) […]

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Ceres: Past and Future

February 18, 2015

Now it’s really getting interesting. Here are the two views of Ceres that the Dawn spacecraft acquired on February 12. The distance here is about 83,000 kilometers, the images taken ten hours apart and magnified. As has been true each time we’ve talked about Ceres in recent weeks, these views are the best ever attained, […]

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Overcoming Tidal Lock around Lower Mass Stars

February 11, 2015

One of the big arguments against habitable planets around low mass stars like red dwarfs is the likelihood of tidal effects. An Earth-sized planet close enough to a red dwarf to be in its habitable zone should. the thinking goes, become tidally locked, so that it keeps one face toward its star at all times. […]

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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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