February 2014

‘Super-Earths’ Problematic for Life

February 28, 2014

The Kepler announcements yesterday were greatly cheering to those of us fascinated with the sheer process of doing exoplanetology. The ‘verification by multiplicity’ technique propelled the statistical analysis that resulted in 715 newly verified worlds, and we have yet to turn it loose on two more years of Kepler data (check Hugh Osborn’s excellent Lost […]

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Kepler: Opening the Planet Verification Bottleneck

February 27, 2014

A planet like Kepler-296f is bound to get a lot of publicity. Orbiting a star half the Sun’s size and only five percent as bright, this world, twice the size of the Earth, appears to orbit in the habitable zone, where liquid water could exist on its surface. We focus so much on the potential […]

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Science Fiction in Extreme Environments

February 26, 2014

I’ve had pulsars on the mind the last couple of days after our discussion of PSR 1257+12 and its contribution to exoplanetology. A bit more about pulsars today and the way we look at extreme objects through science fiction. PSR 1257+12 was discovered in 1990 by Aleksander Wolszczan using data from the Arecibo dish, and […]

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Tau Boötis b: A ‘3-D’ Look at Star and Planet

February 25, 2014

Strong evidence for water in the atmosphere of the hot Jupiter Tau Boötis b has turned up, thanks to work by Geoffrey Blake (Caltech) and graduate student Alexandra Lockwood. But what’s intriguing about the find isn’t the water — we’ve found water vapor on other planets — but the method of detection. Lockwood and Blake […]

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A Formation Mechanism for Pulsar Planets?

February 24, 2014

CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia, is announcing the detection of violent events around the pulsar PSR J0738-4042, some 37,000 light years from Earth in the constellation Puppis. This southern hemisphere constellation was originally part of a larger constellation called Argo Navis, depicting the ship made famous by the journey of […]

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Extraterrestrial Dispersal Vectors

February 21, 2014

If human civilization is to extend itself beyond our planet, it will need to take with it the plants, animals and microorganisms that can sustain a living ecosystem. Nick Nielsen argues in this compelling essay that preserving our own species into the remote future thus means preserving terrestrial biology as well, drawing sustenance from it […]

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PLATO: Planet Hunter Selected by ESA

February 20, 2014

Following up on yesterday’s post on Gaia, it seems a good time to discuss PLATO, the European Space Agency’s planet hunting mission, which has just been selected for launch by ESA’s Science Policy Committee. The agency’s Cosmic Vision program has already selected the Euclid mission to study dark energy (launch in 2020) and Solar Orbiter, […]

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Chemical Change in a Protoplanetary Disk

February 19, 2014

The young star known as L1527 offers a spectacular view at infrared wavelengths, a result of the configuration of gas and dust around it. Have a look at the image below, taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope, where light from the star escapes through the opening provided by a bipolar gas flow, illuminating the gas […]

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Gaia: Early Views, Big Prospects

February 18, 2014

We have several months yet before the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission enters its five-year operational phase. But you can see an important milestone in the image below. Gaia’s two telescopes have to be aligned and focused as its other instruments are calibrated. Testing involves downloading data like this image of NGC1818, a young star […]

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Asteroid Re-Direct: Finding a Candidate

February 17, 2014

It was just a year ago, on February 15, 2013, that the 30-meter asteroid 2012 DA14 whisked past the Earth at a distance of well less than 30,000 kilometers, inside the orbits of our geosynchronous satellites. If you don’t recall 2012 DA14, it’s probably because it was later on the same day that the Chelyabinsk […]

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