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  • The List

    Top exoplanet finds of 2013

    With the addition this year of 180 new worlds to the Paris Observatory’s list of confirmed exoplanets, there are now more than 1,000 known planets orbiting stars other than the sun.

    Here are some of the year’s most notable finds:

    View as a slideshow

    1. The Earthiest

    Kepler-78b is most similar to Earth in mass, diameter and composition; it could be made of rock with an iron...

    12/28/2013 - 11:38 Astronomy
  • News

    Exoplanet mass revealed in light

    A distant planet has been weighed with light that passed through its atmosphere 63 years ago. This new mass-measuring technique should allow researchers to determine which distant planets could support life.

    To identify a truly Earthlike exoplanet with the potential for life, astronomers need to confirm three essential attributes: an atmosphere that contains life-supporting molecules...

    12/19/2013 - 15:25 Planetary Science, Astronomy
  • News

    Billions and billions of Earth-sized planets call Milky Way home

    The galaxy contains billions of potentially habitable Earth-sized planets, according to even the most conservative estimate drawing on data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope.

    Although a mechanical failure recently put the telescope out of commission (SN: 6/15/13, p. 10), Kepler’s census of planets orbiting roughly 170,000 stars is enabling astronomers to predict how common planets...

    11/04/2013 - 18:01 Exoplanets
  • News in Brief

    An Earth-sized hell circles faraway star

    A distant Earth-sized planet’s density suggests it is made of the same stuff as Earth. The planet, named Kepler-78b, is the smallest exoplanet for which researchers know both size and mass.

    Kepler-78b, detected this year in data from NASA’s now-crippled Kepler spacecraft, is located 700 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. The planet’s gravitational tug causes its star to...

    10/30/2013 - 14:00 Astronomy, Exoplanets, Planetary Science
  • Science Ticker

    Rare, free-floating exoplanet found

    A rare, rogue exoplanet without a parent star drifts through space just 80 light-years from Earth, astronomers say. The object may be the lowest-mass free-floating planet found to date in the solar neighborhood.

    The exoplanet, called PSO J318.5-22, is roughly six times the mass of Jupiter and about 12 million years old, relatively young in cosmic age. It has a surface temperature of...

    10/09/2013 - 15:04 Planetary Science
  • Science Ticker

    Fomalhaut star system is a triple

    Planets and debris aren’t the only things gravitationally bound to Fomalhaut A, a star twice the mass of the sun that sits 25 light-years away in the constellation Piscis Austrinus. It turns out that not one but two other stars are also in its clutches. Astronomers describe the triple star system in a paper posted October 3 on and accepted for publication in the Astronomical Journal...

    10/04/2013 - 14:00 Planetary Science
  • News in Brief

    Maps reveal clouds on distant exoplanet

    On the gaseous exoplanet Kepler-7b, the forecast calls for clear skies in the east and high clouds in the west.

    Although crude, the weather maps may be the first to identify clouds on a planet outside the solar system. In the future, a similar technique could help astronomers study clouds on Earth-like exoplanets.

    While tracking light reflecting from the planet, astronomer Brice-...

    10/01/2013 - 15:41 Planetary Science
  • News

    Gone perhaps, but Kepler won't soon be forgotten

    When scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics scheduled a conference called “Exoplanets in the Post-Kepler Era,” they figured that era would still be several years away when the meeting happened. But after last week’s malfunction of a crucial piece of equipment on NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope, the May 20 gathering of more than 100 astronomers in Cambridge,...

    05/23/2013 - 12:23 Planetary Science, Astronomy
  • News

    Most Earthlike planets yet seen bring Kepler closer to its holy grail

    They’re not quite Earth’s twins, but they might be its big sisters. Two planets slightly larger than Earth have been found by NASA’s Kepler space telescope. The planets circle their star at a distance seemingly just right for life. Detailed in research published April 18 in Science, the two planets are likely the first of many that, at least from a distance, look a whole lot like home.

    04/18/2013 - 14:01 Astronomy, Planetary Science
  • News

    Distant planets’ atmospheres revealed

    Alien worlds have become a little less alien. Astronomers have gotten the most detailed look yet at the atmosphere of a planet outside the solar system.

    The study is among the first to directly analyze the chemical makeup of an exoplanet. In the past, astronomers inferred the existence of exoplanets and their gases by looking for subtle changes in the light...

    03/14/2013 - 14:01 Planetary Science