Posts Tagged ‘Astronomy’

Kepler finds 219 new exoplanets and 10 are rocky and Earth-like

June 20, 2017

The galaxy is full of worlds like ours. That’s the lesson from Kepler, NASA’s prodigious exoplanet-hunting mission, which has found another 219 potential new exoplanets, bringing its total to 4034, according to a final analysis of its main 4-year search and published in a final catalog released today. Of the new candidates, 10 are near in size to Earth and sit in the habitable zone of their stars—the range of orbits in which liquid water could exist on their surfaces. Those new additions bring the total number of potentially habitable planets detected by Kepler to 49.

And that’s just in the corner of the sky that Kepler stared at.

Kepler telescope catalog.jpg

Learn more here or here.

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Seven Alien ‘Earths’ Found Orbiting Nearby Star

February 23, 2017

Astronomers announced today the discovery of an extraordinary planetary system: seven Earth-sized planets that could all have liquid water on their rocky surfaces. The planets circle a tiny, dim, nearby star in tight orbits all less than 2 weeks long.

TRAPPIST-1 system.jpg

Although it isn’t possible today to say whether the planets harbor life, astronomers are excited because each planet’s orbit passes in front of—or “transits”—its parent star. What’s more, the system’s proximity to Earth means that answers to questions about whether the system is habitable may come in just a few years’ time with the launch of a powerful new space telescope.

The planets, which circle a star called TRAPPIST-1 just 39 light-years away, are tucked together so tightly that they routinely spangle each others’ skies, sometimes appearing as shimmering crescents and at other times as orbs nearly twice as large as the full moon.

Learn more here, here, here, here, here or here.

Ten times more galaxies in the universe than previously estimated

October 15, 2016

Since the mid-1990s, the working estimate for the number of galaxies in the Universe has been around 120 billion. That number was based largely on a 1996 study called Hubble Deep Field … Researchers pointed the Hubble Space Telescope at a small region of space for a total of ten days. Astrophysicists then counted the galaxies within that narrow field of view and extrapolated the number to the full sky to get to the 120 billion figure.

HubbleDeepField.jpg

The Hubble Deep Field

More recent deep-field studies conducted using Hubble and other telescopes means we now know that the observable Universe contains about two trillion galaxies — more than ten times as many as previously estimated.

Considering that the galaxy we live in, the Milky Way, contains around 100 billion or more stars we can safely assume that the number of stars in the entire universe is a very large number indeed!

Learn more here or here.

Jupiter does not orbit the sun

August 27, 2016

If we picture the solar system, we often picture our dominant star at the center of things, static and immobile as planets orbit circles around it. That picture makes things simple to understand, but technically it’s inaccurate. Take our largest planet Jupiter, for instance. It doesn’t orbit the sun’s center — it orbits a spot in empty space between it and the sun called the barycenter. This is because the sun doesn’t just exert gravity on Jupiter — Jupiter’s so big that its own pull affects how the sun moves, too.

Learn more here.

What a planet needs to sustain life

August 14, 2016

“Venus is too hot, Mars is too cold, and Earth is just right,” says planetary scientist Dave Brain. But why?

A planet with three suns

July 9, 2016

Researchers have spotted a super-Jupiter orbiting a star in a three-sun system at a distance twice as far as Pluto is from our own sun.

Preliminary data suggest that the gas giant—about four times the mass of Jupiter—orbits the largest and brightest of the three stars (which has about 1.8 times the mass of our sun) once every 550 years or so. The other two suns in the system, smaller stars that orbit each other relatively tightly and quickly, lie somewhere between 45 billion and 60 billion kilometers away. The intricate dance of the planet and these stars is taking place about 320 light-years from us. Measurements at near-infrared wavelengths suggest that HD 131399Ab’s atmosphere contains water vapor and methane, and that the planet’s cloud tops are about 850 K (577°C). Check it out below or learn more here.

Jupiter’s Northern Lights are Awesome

July 1, 2016

Have you ever seen the aurora borealis or the aurora australis? They’re wonders to behold, but auroras are not limited to Earth. Jupiter has them, too. NASA and the European Space Agency has recently been training the far-seeing Hubble Space Telescope on nearby Jupiter. It reveals ultraviolet auroras larger than the Earth itself.

Jupiter Northern Lights.jpg

Jupiter’s glorious auroras—caused by the gas giant’s enormous magnetic field reeling in charged particles from the solar wind—were first discovered by the Voyager spacecraft in 1979. The lights appear at their brightest when viewed through an ultraviolet filter.

Jupiter Northern Lights.gif

Learn more here, here or here.

Scientists Find Evidence for Ninth Planet in Solar System

January 21, 2016

Is there anybody out there? Two astronomers say they have found evidence that a planet around 10 times the mass of Earth is lurking in the outer reaches of the solar system, on an orbit that comes no closer than 200 times the distance between the sun and Earth. Dubbed Planet Nine, it hasn’t been seen directly. Instead scientists of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena have inferred its existence from the strange orbits of other, smaller bodies.

Learn more here, here, here or here.

Have We Detected Megastructures Built By Aliens Around A Distant Star?

October 16, 2015

It has been called the most bizarre star in our galaxy and some think it just might be home to high-tech aliens.

The unlikely suggestion that aliens live in this star system is being taken so seriously that a team of astrophysicists wants to train a radio telescope in its direction to determine if any signals could indicate advanced extraterrestrial life.

According to Tabetha Boyajian, a postdoctoral astrophysicist at Yale University, the most likely natural explanation is that light from the star is being blocked by a massive swarm of comets that has descended close to the solar mass.

Dr Wright at Penn State is about to publish an alternative explanation for the star’s light patterns. He says the patterns of light are also consistent with a “swarm of megastructures” orbiting the star, perhaps formed by enormous solar collectors.

Such energy collectors are dubbed Dyson structures, named after physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson, who suggested in 1960 that advanced civilisations would use such structures to collect massive amounts of solar energy.

A drawing of a Dyson Sphere

A drawing of a Dyson Sphere

What does that mean? It means we’re allowed to get a little bit excited! Not because aliens are a likely possibility, but because we’re in the middle of an awesome mystery the likes of which we haven’t seen before in the history of space exploration. Word is that SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute scientists are considering devoting their time to it, and hopefully more research teams will get involved too. I seriously cannot wait to see what they come up with.

Learn more here, here or here.

Water flows on Mars

September 29, 2015

Beginning in 2011, scientists using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)—the best camera looking down on Mars—found hundreds of streaks, about 5 meters wide, that appear seasonally on steep slopes. They show up during the warm season, grow hundreds of meters long, and then fade as winter approaches. For many years, the team made the obvious interpretation: the streaks meant that water was flowing. Salts were expected to be present in the water, because they lower the freezing point of water by tens of degrees, and they also make the water less likely to evaporate in Mars’s barely-there atmosphere. But until the researchers directly detected a signature for water in the streaks, or found evidence for salts precipitating out of the water, they were unwilling to declare the case solved.

Now, they have found evidence for those salts, using a different instrument on the MRO. And this suggests that water is flowing on Mars!

Salty water on Mars

Learn more, here, here, here, here, here, here or here.