Astronomers have discovered five new planets orbiting the nearby star Tau Ceti, and there's even better news -- one of them could potentially support life one day. While there are a couple things to be excited for, that's a big "potentially." What's more, it's not as if "nearby" is not exactly down the block in absolute terms. At just 12 million miles away, though, it's just a stone's throw away, as far as the cosmos are concerned. Considering that we're running out of ways to doom this planet, it's never too early to start looking for a new one to ruin a little farther down the line.
Turns out that what we thought we understood about planetary formation may have just been thrown out by NASA's discovery of Kepler-47, the first circumbinary planetary system ever discovered. The current theories on planetary formation in a system with two stars would make this an exceedingly rare occurrence, which means we may not yet fully understand exactly how planets come to exist in the vast reaches of space.
getting so much attention lately, it 's easy to forget that NASA has just oodles of other cool stuff going on right now. Yes, most of it does not involve skycrane drops or lasers or HD pictures of the surface of an alien world, but it is still cool, you guys! Case in point: NASA's Kepler
mission announced today that is has found 41 new exoplanets in 20 star systems
. The results are preliminary and some are still being peer-reviewed to ensure that they are planets and not blips in the data or just alien civilizations messing with us. If they pan out, though -- and there's every reason to believe most of them will -- it will raise the number of planets discovered by the Kepler mission by nearly 50%, to a grand total of 116 planets
We all have plenty of things to worry about and be frightened by in the course of a given day. Paying the bills, getting to work on time, making sure we don't step in front of a bus while texting. Apparently, though, researchers at Penn State University
think we could all use one more thing to have anxiety over: The Earth will eventually be swallowed by our own slowly dying sun, just as the red giant star BD+48 740 did to one of its planets
. It's the first time that astronomers have been able to observe, in some way, the consumption of a planet by its aging star
. Sure, that fate is probably 5 billion years in the future for the Earth, when we'll all be long in the ground, but knowing it certainly doesn't make us sleep any more soundly right now.
When we last checked in on the potential exoplanet Gliese 581 g
, things were looking good for it to exist in the habitable
" where liquid water can exist on the surface of a planet. Then, there were concerns that the rocky world might not exist at all. Now, the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo
has placed the planet at the top of its list of potentially habitable exoplanets
While observing the exoplanet GJ 436b orbiting its red-dwarf star, astronomers noticed something odd: Periodic fluctuations in light from the star indicating that there was perhaps another planet. One smaller than Earth
, and possibly covered in glowing, molten rock
. Who's up for a trip to Magma World?
We have loads of astronomical data on various planetary systems that sits on shelves that only a select few folks actually seem to be interested in. That isn't to say it's not a fascinating area of research but books can only reach so many people. But what if we were to translate this data into musical chords? YouTube user Unfuzified has done exactly that with the Kepler-11 system. The six planets are given a pitch based on the distance from their star and the volume is determined by their size to form a fascinating sonata.
One of the best things the comic strip xkcd
does is present the mind-bogglingly large in a beautiful, elegant way. This time, the webcomic's artist turned his eye to exoplanets
, presenting all the other worlds we've yet discovered in one image, to scale. There sure are an awful lot of them.
In 2010, astronomers announced that they'd discovered at least five -- or as many as seven -- exoplanets
orbiting the sunlike star HD 10180
in the constellation Hydrus. Now, a new analysis of that data suggests that there are least seven planets, but as many as nine
orbiting the distant star. If true, this would make the HD 10180 the most populous exoplanet system yet discovered
If there's one thing space nerds love to complain about, it's the state of the NASA
budget. Thankfully saved from the chopping block is the Kepler
mission, which since 2009 has been searching the skies for exoplanets
with remarkable success. What may surprise some is that Kepler was meant to be a 3.5 year mission to seek out strange new worlds. Thankfully, the probe's hunt for alien worlds has now been extended until 2016.
Discovered back in 2009, exoplanet GJ 1214b has been the focus of interest from the start. One of the first planets discovered to have an atmosphere, there's been a lot of guessing as to exactly what kind it actually has. In 2010, tests showed that the atmosphere was primarily composed of water, and now infrared spectra taken by the Hubble Space Telescope have confirmed that it is in fact a waterworld and a planet unlike any other that has been previously discovered.
NASA's Kepler has found the first earth-sized planets orbiting a star outside of our solar system. Unfortunately for extraterrestrial life enthusiasts, the planets are too close to the star, so they are not in the star's habitable zone. Dubbed Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f, the planets are in located a distance from the star that liquid water could not exist on their respective surfaces, however, the planets set a record for being the smallest exoplanets found orbiting a star similar to our sun.
Scientists investigating how elements respond in varying conditions have made a tantalizing discovery with potentially galactic ramifications. According to their work, it may be possible for enormous planets consisting of 50% diamond
to form within our galaxy. Suddenly, your trip to Kay Jewelers seems startlingly insignificant.
According to NASA
, their exoplanet-spotting Kepler probe
has discovered its first ever exoplanet that orbits a star in the so-called "habitable zone
." This zone is a reference to the distance at which the planet orbits its parent star, and means that it is warm enough for liquid water to exist on the planet's surface. Tantalizingly, the planet appears to be comparable in size to the Earth, and the sun is similar to our own star.
The constellation Lupus
has revealed a surprise to astronomers with a star
that seems to have two spiral arms
reaching out from either end. While these kind of structures have been observed in galaxies, specifically pinwheel galaxies, arms have never been seen on an individual star before.
The star, called SAO 206462
, is a relatively young star surrounded by a disk of gas and dust. Scientists hoped that close observation would reveal an exoplanet
forming from the swirling mass, and so peered at the 400-light-year distant star with Japan's Subaru Telescope
. Instead of planets, two graceful arms similar to those found in galaxies emerged.
However, that doesn't mean that planets aren't hanging around in the disk -- which is apparently twice as wide as the orbit of Pluto. In fact, theoretical models suggest that the spiral arms could be formed from not one planet, but two. Obviously, some further investigation of this intriguing and beautiful star will be warranted.
The HARPS team at the La Silla Observatory in Chile recently discovered a slew of 50 exoplanets in one go. Of these 50, there is one that is particularly interesting as it may be able to support life: HD 85512 b. This rocky planet that is about 3 times the mass of Earth and sits on the edge of its star's habitable area. Early calculations suggest it has an average temperature around 77 degrees Fahrenheit, a fact which in turn suggests it has 50% cloud cover -- both very Earthlike qualities. As much as we'd all like it to be a potential Earth Prime, it's worth keeping in mind that this isn't a sure thing, yet.
You remember, perhaps, Gliese 581g which was also touted to be an Earthlike, potentially life-sustaining planet until its discovery fell into question. While that is unlikely to happen a second time, it's possible that HD 85512 b's clouds might be made of something other than water or that there is no water on the planet at all. It's hard to tell.
I'll hedge the headline and point out that it is as "confirmed" as anything 20 light-years away from Earth can be. That said, new research is presenting a strong argument that the rocky planet Gliese 581d
could, indeed, harbor life. Readers will recall the name as just over a year ago that its neighbor, Gliese 581g, was thought to be habitable
. Those hopes were dashed, when further research showed that 581g may not even exist
581d on the other hand has much better chances. It orbits towards the edge of the so-called "Goldilocks zone," an orbit far enough away from a star where conditions are "just right" for life. The planet is larger than Earth, exerting about twice our home planet's gravity, and has a thick carbon-dioxide atmosphere. According to France's National Centre for Scientific Research, which modeled the conditions of 581d, liquid water and possibly oceans could exist on the planet.
An Earth-like planet has been discovered just 20 light-years away in the Gliese 581 system following an eleven-year observation, and NASA says that this could be "the most Earth-like exoplanet yet discovered and the first strong case for a potentially habitable one." Dubbed Gliese 581g because it is the sixth planet orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 581, the planet has a mass of three to four times Earth's, orbits its star in just 37 days, and is "tidally locked" to the star, meaning that one side is always facing the star and it's always light on that side, while one side is always facing away and it's always dark.
Sci-fi sounding details aside, the reason Gliese 581g has scientists so excited can be summed up in one word: Water.
Exoplanet COROT-7b was thought to be the most Earth-like exoplanet ever discovered due to its size, density and rocky features, but a new study suggests that the exoplanet carries a tail of debris, making it (in some respects) more like a comet.