Exoplanetary Science

An Alpha Centauri Bb Transit Search

March 30, 2015

Alpha Centauri continues to be a maddening and elusive subject for study. Two decades of radial velocity work on Centauri A and B have been able to constrain the possibilities — we’ve learned that there are no gas giants larger than Jupiter in orbits within 2 AU of either of the stars. But lower mass […]

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Large Exomoons Shown to Be Detectable

March 20, 2015

The search for sub-planetary scale features in other solar systems continues, with encouraging news from the Hunt for Exomoons with Kepler project. A moon around a distant exoplanet is a prize catch, but as we’ve also seen recently, scientists are weighing the possibilities in detecting exoplanetary ring systems (see Searching for Exoplanet Rings). Confirming either […]

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Can We Find Exoplanets Using the Titius-Bode Relation?

March 18, 2015

The Titius-Bode law has always been a curiosity, one often attributed to little more than happenstance. But recently this numerological curiosity, which predicts that planets in a solar system appear with a certain ratio between their orbital periods, has been the subject of renewed investigation. Francois Graner (Ecole Normale Superieure, Paris) and Berengere Dubrulle (Observatoire […]

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The Colors of Extraterrestrial Life

March 17, 2015

One of these days we’ll have the instruments in place to examine light from a terrestrial-class world around another star. This opens up the possibility of identifying atmospheric gases like oxygen, ozone, carbon dioxide and methane. All of these can occur in an atmosphere in the absence of life, but if we find them existing […]

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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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