A recent study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society examines formation mechanisms for how binary planets—two large planetary bodies orbiting each other—can be produced from a type of tidal heating known as tidal dissipation, or the energy that is shared between two planetary bodies as the orbit close to each other, which the Earth and our Moon experiences. This study comes as the hunt for exomoons and other satellites orbiting exoplanets continues to expand and holds the potential to help astronomers better understand the formation and evolution of exoplanets and their systems. So, why is studying binary planets specifically important?Continue reading “Where are All the Double Planets?”
A pair of recent studies conduct in-depth analyses of Jupiter-sized exoplanets, also known as Exo-Jupiters, and were published in Nature Communications and The Astronomical Journal, respectively. The study published in Nature Communications was conducted by an international team of researchers and examines how Exo-Jupiters could be more common than previously thought, while the study published in The Astronomical Journal was conducted by one researcher and examines exoplanetary system, HD 141399, and how it is comprised entirely of Exo-Jupiters with no additional planets.Continue reading “Exo-Jupiters’ Commonality and Exclusivity Highlighted in Two New Studies”
A recent study published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters used data obtained by the James Webb Space Telescope’s (JWST) Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) to identify the presence of quartz nanocrystals in the upper atmosphere of WASP-17 b, an exoplanet whose mass and radius are approximately 0.78 and 1.87 that of Jupiter, respectively, and is located approximately 1,324 light-years from Earth. WASP-17 b is classified as a “puffy” hot Jupiter due to its 3.7-day orbital period, meaning the extreme temperatures could cause unique chemical processes to occur within its atmosphere, but the astronomers were still surprised by the findings.Continue reading “An Exoplanet so Hot it has Clouds Made of Quartz”
The race is on to discover truly habitable Earth-like worlds. While we are starting to observe the atmospheres of large potentially habitable planets such as Hycean worlds with the telescopes we currently have, the most significant breakthroughs will likely come with the development of advanced specialized telescopes. These new designs will likely use a starshade to hide the glare of a star and allow us to directly observe its exoplanets. But will that be enough to study distant terrestrial planets?Continue reading “An Ambitious New Technology Might be Needed to See Other Earths”
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has only been operational for just over a year, but this isn’t stopping the world’s biggest space agency from discussing the next big space telescope that could serve as JWST’s successor sometime in the future. Enter the Habitable Worlds Observatory (HWO), which was first proposed as NASA’s next flagship Astrophysics mission during the National Academy of Sciences’ Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics 2020 (Astro2020). While its potential technological capabilities include studying exoplanets, stars, galaxies, and a myriad of other celestial objects for life beyond Earth, there’s a long way to go before HWO will be wowing both scientists and the public with breathtaking images and new datasets.Continue reading “Planning is Underway for NASA’s Next Big Flagship Space Telescope”
To date, astronomers have confirmed 5,272 exoplanets in 3,943 systems using a variety of detection methods. Of these, 1,834 are Neptune-like, 1,636 are gas giants (Jupiter-sized or larger), 1,602 are rocky planets several times the size and mass of Earth (Super-Earths), and 195 have been Earth-like. With so many exoplanets available for study (and next-generation instruments optimized for the task), the process is shifting from discovery to characterization. And discoveries, which are happening regularly, are providing teasers of what astronomers will likely see in the near future.
For example, two international teams of astronomers independently discovered a gas giant several times the mass of Jupiter orbiting a Sun-like star about 87.5 light-years from Earth. In a series of new papers that appeared in Astronomy & Astrophysics, the teams report the detection of a Super-Jupiter orbiting AF Leporis (AF Lep b) using a combination of astrometry and direct imaging. The images they acquired using the Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch instrument (SPHERE) have since become the ESO’s Picture of the Week.Continue reading “Astronomers Suspected There Should Be a Planet Here, and Then They Took a Picture of it”
While the Hubble Space Telescope celebrates 32 years in orbit, like a fine wine, it has only gotten better with age as it continues to study the Universe and teach us more about our place in the cosmos. Hubble doesn’t just take breathtaking images of our Universe, but it also studies our own solar system, galaxies, and exoplanets, as well. It is this last subject where Hubble has recently been hard at work, though.Continue reading “Hubble Checks the Weather on Hot Jupiters. Forecast: 100% Chance of Hellish Conditions”
Hubble’s most remarkable feature might be its longevity. The Hubble has been operating for almost 32 years and has fed us a consistent diet of science—and eye candy—during that time. For 13 of its 32 years, it’s been checking in on a protoplanet forming in a young solar system about 530 light-years away.
Planet formation is always a messy process. But in this case, the planet’s formation is an “intense and violent process,” according to the authors of a new study.Continue reading “Hubble Has Been Watching This Planet Form for 13 Years”
Today’s astronomers are busy building the census of extrasolar planets, which has reached a total of 4,884 confirmed planets, with another 8,288 candidates awaiting confirmation. Now that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has finally been launched, future surveys will be reaching beyond mere discovery and will be focused more on characterization. In essence, future exoplanet surveys will determine with greater certainty which planets are habitable and which are not.
One characteristic that they will be on the lookout for in particular is the presence of planetary magnetic fields (aka. magnetospheres). On Earth, the atmosphere and all life on the surface are protected by a magnetic field, which is why they are considered crucial to habitability. Using data from the venerated Hubble Space Telescope (HST), an international team of astronomers reported the detection of a magnetic field around an exoplanet for the first time!Continue reading “An Exoplanet Found Protected by a Magnetosphere”
Can planets form around massive, hot stars? Some astronomers think they can’t. According to the evidence, planets around stars exceeding three solar masses should be rare, or maybe even non-existent. But now astronomers have found one.
A team of researchers found a binary star that’s six times the mass of the Sun. And it hosts a planet that’s about ten times more massive than Jupiter.Continue reading “Even Really Massive Stars Seem to Have Planets”