Exoplanetary Science

TRAPPIST-1h: Filling in the Picture

May 23, 2017

One of the worst things we can do is to get so wedded to a concept that we fail to see conflicting information. That’s true whether the people involved are scientists, or stock brokers, or writers. It’s all too easy to distort the surrounding facts because we want to get a particular result, a process […]

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Detecting Photosynthesis on Exoplanets

May 18, 2017

Although many of the nearby stars we will study for signs of life are older than the Sun, we do not know how long it takes life to emerge or, for that matter, how likely it is to emerge at all. As we saw yesterday, that means plugging values into Drake-like equations to estimate the […]

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PLANETS Telescope: Building Toward Colossus

May 15, 2017

Let me call your attention to the PLANETS telescope, now seeking a funding boost through an ongoing Kickstarter campaign. Currently about halfway built, the PLANETS (Polarized Light from Atmospheres of Nearby ExtraTerrestrial Systems) instrument is located on the 10,000 foot Haleakala volcano on the island of Maui. When completed, it will be the world’s largest […]

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Exploring the Planet / Brown Dwarf Boundary

May 10, 2017

The boundary between brown dwarf and planet is poorly defined, although objects over about 13 Jupiter masses (and up to 75 Jupiter masses) are generally considered brown dwarfs. Brown dwarfs do not reside, like most stars, on the main sequence, being not massive enough to sustain nuclear fusion of hydrogen in their cores, although deuterium […]

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Early System Evolution: The Disks around Epsilon Eridani

May 3, 2017

Nine years ago in a piece titled Asteroid Belts, Possible Planets Around Epsilon Eridani, I discussed work that Massimo Marengo was doing on the nearby star, examining rings of material around Epsilon Eridani and considering the possibilities with regard to planets. Marengo (now at Iowa State University) has recently been working with Kate Su (University […]

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Planetary Discovery around Ultracool Star

April 28, 2017

I have a special enthusiasm for microlensing as a means of exoplanet discovery. With microlensing, you never know what you’re going to come up with. Transits are easier to detect when the planet is close to its star, and hence transits more frequently. Radial velocity likewise sends its loudest signal when a planet is large […]

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Speculations on Habitable Zone Waterworlds

April 26, 2017

What to make of Fergus Simpson’s new paper on waterworlds, suggesting that most habitable zone planets are of this type? If such worlds are common, we may find that most planets in the habitable zones of their stars are capable of evolving life, but unlikely to host technological civilizations. An explanation for the so-called ‘Fermi […]

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Further Work on TRAPPIST-1

April 25, 2017

A closely packed planetary system like the one we’ve found at TRAPPIST-1 offers intriguing SETI possibilities. Here a SETI search for directed radio transmissions aimed at the Earth gives way to an attempt to overhear ongoing activity within another stellar system. For it’s hard to conceive of any civilization developing technological skills that would turn […]

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The Value of an Exo-Venus

April 10, 2017

Looking back at science fiction’s treatment of Venus, you can see a complete reversal by the 1960s, at which time we had learned enough about the planet to render earlier depictions invalid, and even quaint. Think back to the inundated surface of Venus in Bradbury’s “Death by Rain” (1950) or Henry Kuttner and C. L. […]

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Atmosphere Detected around Super-Earth GJ 1132b

April 7, 2017

There’s interesting news this morning about planets around M-dwarfs. A team of astronomers led by John Southworth (Keele University, UK) has detected an atmosphere around the transiting super-Earth GJ 1132b. While we’ve examined the atmospheres of gas giants and have detected atmospheres on the super-Earths 55 Cancri e and GJ 3470 b, GJ 1132b is […]

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