Exoplanet K2-18b is garnering a lot of attention. James Webb Space Telescope spectroscopy shows it has carbon and methane in its atmosphere. Those results, along with other observations, suggest the planet could be a long-hypothesized ‘Hycean World.’ But new research counters that.
Instead, the planet could be a gaseous mini-Neptune.
After analyzing the temperature data from 2023, NASA has concluded that it was the hottest year on record. This will surprise almost nobody. If you live in one of the regions stricken by drought, forest fires, or unusually powerful weather, you don’t need NASA to confirm that the planet is warming.
In the search for potentially life-supporting exoplanets, liquid water is the key indicator. Life on Earth requires liquid water, and scientists strongly believe the same is true elsewhere. But from a great distance, it’s difficult to tell what worlds have oceans of water. Some of them can have lava oceans instead, and getting the two confused is a barrier to understanding exoplanets, water, and habitability more clearly.
About 164 light-years away, a Hot Jupiter orbits its star so closely that it takes fewer than four days to complete an orbit. The planet is named WASP-69b, and it’s losing mass into space, stripped away by the star’s powerful energy. The planet’s lost atmosphere forms a trail that extends about 560,000 km (350,000 miles) into space.
Astronomers working with TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) have discovered a planet that’s been left out in the Sun too long. Or at least half of it has. The newly discovered planet is tidally locked to its star, and one side is completely molten.
Red dwarf exoplanet habitability is a hot topic in space science. These small dim stars host lots of exoplanets, including small rocky ones the size of Earth. But the little stars emit extremely powerful flares that can damage and strip away atmospheres.
If we’re ever going to understand red dwarf habitability, we need to understand the atmospheres of the exoplanets that orbit them.
Hardly a day goes by where a story hits the headlines about our abuse of the Earth’s precious environment be that the atmosphere or the oceans, forests or desert. When it comes to the atmosphere we all tend to immediately turn our attention to pollution, to gasses being released and disturbing the delicate balance. Yet a paper recently published points to a new demon, megaconstellations of satellites damaging the ionosphere – the ionised part of the upper atmosphere.
We’re about to learn a lot more about exoplanets. The ESA has just approved the construction of its Ariel mission, which will give us our first large survey of exoplanet atmospheres. The space telescope will help us answer fundamental questions about how planets form and evolve.
If there’s one chemical that causes excitement in the search for biosignatures on other worlds, it’s methane. It’s not a slam dunk because it has both biotic and abiotic sources. But finding it in an exoplanet’s atmosphere means that planet deserves a closer look.
Our Solar System’s ice giants, Uranus and Neptune, have been largely left out of the planetary probe game. While all of the other planets—including even the demoted Pluto—have been the subjects of dedicated missions, the ice giants have not. In fact, the only spacecraft to ever even fly by Uranus and Neptune was Voyager 2 in the late 1980s.