Exoplanets

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The Kepler satellite discovers exoplanets by measuring the light drop from a star when a planet moves in front of it. Maths can uncover many more exoplanets. Australian National University and the Niels Bohr Institute

Alien worlds: most stars have planets in the habitable zone

The search for life on other planets gets a boost thanks to an old calculation that found Uranus in our solar system.
An artist’s impression of the oldest known system of terrestrial-sized planets, Kepler-444. Tiago Campante/Peter Devine, University of Birmingham

Ancient exoplanet discovery boosts chances of finding alien life

One of the crucial variables in calculating the likelihood that alien life exists elsewhere in our galaxy is the number of stars that possess planetary systems, and the proportion of those planets that…
Artist’s impression of the planet Kepler 62-f which could lie in the habitable zone of its host star 1,200 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lyra. NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech

The tools needed to seek out new worlds out there in space

More than 1,000 exoplanets have now been discovered by the Kepler Space Telescope, announced NASA this month, and the figure continues to climb. Three of the newly confirmed Kepler planets are thought…
Artist’s impression of an Earth-sized planet in the Kepler 186 system. But what makes one planet more habitable than another? NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

What makes one Earth-like planet more habitable than another?

When it comes to finding the right kind of planet to target in the search for life elsewhere in the universe, the size of the planet matters. All planets are believed to form by a process of competitive…
A reconstruction of the path and damage caused by the asteroid that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February 15, 2013. Flickr/Sandia Labs

Impacts, extinctions and climate in the search for life elsewhere

Every so often our Earth encounters a large chunk of space debris which reminds us that our solar system still contains plenty of debris that could potentially have an impact on life on Earth. While the…
In the coming years, many planets that could host life will be discovered. But which will we target in the search for life elsewhere? IAU/L Calçada

Giant impacts, planet formation and the search for life elsewhere

In the search for life beyond our solar system, we need to consider the system in which a planet moves, including the other planets and assorted debris that accompany it on its journey through the cosmos…
Artists conception of the a star with two Saturn-mass planets discovered by the Kepler satellite. NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

For life to form on a planet it needs to orbit the right kind of star

In the search for life-sustaining planets we must first choose the right host star. There are many factors that would make a star system too hostile for life to even get started, let alone survive for…
Artist’s impression of a sunset on the planet Gliese 667Cc. While that planet is likely not an ideal target, we will discover planets far more like our own. ESO/L. Calçada

Exo-Earths and the search for life elsewhere: a brief history

The criteria for life on other planets is the focus of the 4th Australian Exoplanet Workshop, hosted by the University of Southern Queensland this week. The first in this series on exoplanets looks at…
An artist’s impression shows a pair of wildly misaligned planet-forming gas discs around both the young stars in the binary system HK Tauri. R. Hurt (NASA/JPL-Caltech/IPAC)

From dust clouds to wobbly orbits for new planets

New observations of a youthful binary star system, reported today in the journal Nature, may help to explain one of exoplanetary science’s greatest unanswered questions – the peculiar orbits of so many…
An artist’s conception of WISE J0855-0714. NASA, JPL-Caltech and Penn State University

Say hello to our new close – but cold – neighbour in space

Author Douglas Adams famously had his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy remark that “space is really big”. But to my mind the sheer vastness of space is better encapsulated in the recent announcement of…
Beta Pictoris b spins faster than the fastest spinning planet in our solar system. ESO/L. Calçada & N. Risinger (skysurvey.org)

A different spin – exoplanet’s ‘day’ is measured for the first time

Over the past two decades, almost 1,500 exoplanets have been discovered orbiting distant stars – but Dutch astronomers have determined for the very first time just how fast one of those exoplanets is spinning…
Shooting for the exomoon. CBC11

Move over exoplanets, exomoons may harbour life too

In the Star Wars universe, everyone’s favourite furry aliens, the Ewoks, famously lived on the “forest moon of Endor”. In scientific terms, the Ewok’s home world would be referred to as an exomoon, which…
Let’s hope it’s barren. NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-CalTech

Habitable exoplanets are bad news for humanity

Last week, scientists announced the discovery of Kepler-186f, a planet 492 light years away in the Cygnus constellation. Kepler-186f is special because it marks the first planet almost exactly the same…
The Automated Planet Finder is hunting planets all by itself. Laurie Hatch

Telescope apps help amateurs hunt for exoplanets

People around the world are being invited to learn how to hunt for planets, using two new online apps devised by scientists at the University of Texas at Austin and UC Santa Cruz. The apps use data from…
The Gemini South telescope – pictured here – houses the latest gear to hunt down and snap photos of exoplanets. Gemini Observatory

Gemini Planet Imager – a new eye to scan the sky for exoplanets

There is excitement in astronomy and planetary science departments worldwide as the new Gemini Planet Imager, housed in the Gemini South Telescope in the Chilean Andes, turns its razor-sharp gaze to the…

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