Exoplanetary Science

PLATO: Planet Hunting Mission Officially Adopted

June 21, 2017

The European Space Agency has just announced the official adoption of the PLATO mission. The untangled acronym — PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars — tells us that, like Kepler and CoRoT, this is a planet hunting mission with asteroseismological implications. Photometric monitoring of nearby bright stars for planetary transits and determination of planetary radii […]

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A New Classification Scheme for Kepler Planets

June 20, 2017

As announced yesterday at NASA Ames, the Kepler team has released the final Kepler catalog from the spacecraft’s first four years of data and its deep stare into Cygnus. The numbers still impress me despite our having watched them grow with each new report: We have 4034 planet candidates, of which 2335 have been verified […]

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Pale Red Dot: Campaign 2

June 19, 2017

The Pale Red Dot campaign that discovered Proxima Centauri b produced one of the great results of exoplanet detection. For many of us, the idea that a world of roughly Earth mass might be orbiting in Proxima Centauri’s habitable zone — where liquid water can exist on the surface — was almost too good to […]

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New Looks at Brown Dwarfs

June 13, 2017

Small stars are fascinating because of their sheer ubiquity. Some estimates for the fraction of red dwarfs in the galaxy go as high as 80 percent, meaning the planets around such stars are going to be the most common venues for possible life. For a time, I thought brown dwarfs would be shown to be […]

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Planet Formation around TRAPPIST-1

June 9, 2017

Just how did the seven planets around TRAPPIST-1 form? This is a system with seven worlds each more or less the size of the Earth orbiting a small red dwarf. If these planets formed in situ, an unusually dense disk would have been required, making planet migration the more likely model. But if the planets […]

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Ultraviolet Insights into Red Dwarf Flares

June 8, 2017

I seem to be reminded every day of how many discoveries are lurking in our archives. On the question of red dwarf stars and the flare activity that could compromise the habitability of planets around them, the ten year dataset from GALEX is proving invaluable. The Galaxy Explorer Evolution spacecraft was launched in 2003 and […]

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Enter the ‘Synestia’

May 24, 2017

What happens when giant objects collide? We know the result will be catastrophic, as when we consider the possibility that the Moon was formed by a collision between the Earth and a Mars-sized object in the early days of the Solar System. But Sarah Stewart (UC-Davis) and Simon Lock (a graduate student at Harvard University) […]

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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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