Small worlds come in two flavors. The complete dataset from the original mission of the planet-hunting Kepler space telescope reveals a split in the exoplanet family tree, setting super-Earths apart from mini-Neptunes.
Kepler's final exoplanet catalog, released in a news conference June 19, now consists of 4,034 exoplanet candidates. Of those, 49 are rocky worlds in their stars'...
Our corner of the galaxy teems with alien worlds. In the 25 years since the discovery of the first planets beyond our solar system, astronomers have found more than 3,600 worlds orbiting other stars. A select few have become tantalizing targets in the search for life despite orbiting stars that are much smaller, cooler — and in many ways harsher — than the sun.
Just 39 light-years away,...
The planet KELT 9b is so hot — hotter than many stars — that it shatters gas giant temperature records, researchers report online June 5 in Nature.
This Jupiter-like exoplanet revolves around a star just 650 light-years away, locked in an orbit that keeps one side always facing its star. With blistering temps hovering at about 4,300o Celsius, the atmosphere on KELT 9b’s dayside is over...
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HAT-P 7b is a windy world. Stiff easterlies typically whip through the atmosphere of the distant exoplanet, but sometimes the powerful gales blow in surprisingly varied directions. Now, simulations of the planet’s magnetic field lines, illustrated here as a rainbow of scrawled marks, reveal that HAT-P 7b’s magnetic field influences the winds, even turning some into...
A watery world about 430 light-years from Earth may have had a relatively calm origin.
The Neptune-mass exoplanet, HAT-P-26b, has surprisingly low levels of heavy elements in its atmosphere, suggesting that it formed close to its star, researchers report in the May 12 Science. That’s different from how the ice giants in Earth’s solar system, Neptune and Uranus, formed, suggesting...
News in Brief
Volcanoes that belch hydrogen could bump up the number of potentially habitable planets in the universe.
Ramses Ramirez and Lisa Kaltenegger, both of Cornell University, modeled the atmospheres of planets blemished with hydrogen-spewing volcanoes. These gaseous eruptions could warm planets and ultimately widen a star’s habitable zone, the region where liquid water can exist on a planet’s...
A nearby ultracool star harbors seven Earth-sized planets, three with orbits that potentially put them in a habitable zone. That makes the system, around a star called TRAPPIST-1, a prime target in the search for signs of alien life. Its discovery also hints that many more cousins of Earth may be out there than astronomers thought.
“It’s rather stunning that the system has so many Earth-...
Worlds in the Alpha Centauri system — the trio of stars closest to our sun — have been a staple of science fiction for decades. From Star Trek to Avatar, writers have dreamed up exotic landscapes (and inhabitants) for interstellar explorers to encounter. Now a planet around one of those stars is no longer fiction.
In August, breathless headlines heralded the discovery of a small,...
Letters to the Editor
Buzzkill11/02/2016 - 17:27 Exoplanets, Ecology, Astronomy
Astronomers confirmed the existence of an exoplanet, Proxima b, only 4.2 light-years from Earth, Christopher Crockett reported in “Planet orbits sun’s nearest neighbor” (SN: 9/17/16, p. 6).
Some readers thought there was too much excitement over the new potentially habitable planet.
Christina Gullion believes keeping Earth habitable in the face of a changing climate is more...
Call it exoplanet fatigue. The historic detection of an exoplanet just 4.2 light-years from Earth, featured on our cover, was big news. It attracted a lot of media buzz. But outside the office, I heard little about it. No questions from other parents at the playground, including those who had been eager to chat about gravitational waves and the Zika virus. Even my significant other, a...