Good News! Red Dwarfs Blast Their Superflares out the Poles, Sparing Their Planets From Destruction

The only known life in the universe lives on a mid-size rocky planet that orbits a mid-size yellow star. That makes our planet a bit unusual. While small rocky planets are common in the galaxy, yellow stars are not. Small red dwarf stars are much more typical, making up about 75% of the stars in the Milky Way. This is why most of the potentially habitable exoplanets we’ve discovered orbit red dwarfs.

Continue reading “Good News! Red Dwarfs Blast Their Superflares out the Poles, Sparing Their Planets From Destruction”

From the way These Stars Look, a Supernova is Inevitable

Sometimes loud explosions are easier to deal with when you know they’re coming.  They are also easier to watch out for.  So when astronomers from the University of Warwick found a rare tear-drop shaped star, known as HD265435, they knew they were looking at a potential new supernova waiting to happen.  The only caveat – it might not actually happen until 70 million years from now.

Continue readingFrom the way These Stars Look, a Supernova is Inevitable

There are Probably Many More Earth-Sized Worlds Than Previously Believed

In the past decade, the discovery of extrasolar planets has accelerated immensely. To date, 4,424 exoplanets have been confirmed in 3,280 star systems, with another 7,453 awaiting confirmation. So far, most of these planets have been gas giants, with about 66% being similar to Jupiter or Neptune, while another 30% have been giant rocky planets (aka. “Super-Earths). Only a small fraction of confirmed exoplanets (less than 4%) have been similar in size to Earth.

However, according to new research by astronomers working at NASA Ames Research Center, it is possible that Earth-sized exoplanets are more common than previously thought. As they indicated in a recent study, there could be twice as many rocky exoplanets in binary systems that are obscured by the glare of their parent stars. These findings could have drastic implications in the search for potentially habitable worlds since roughly half of all stars are binary systems.

Continue reading “There are Probably Many More Earth-Sized Worlds Than Previously Believed”

Astronomers Have Found the Perfect Exoplanet to Study Another World’s Atmosphere

TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) has found a new planet, and the discovery of this sub-Neptune exoplanet has scientists excited about atmospheres. The combination of the planet’s size, its thick atmosphere, and its orbit around a small M-class star close to Earth provides researchers with an opportunity to learn more about exoplanet atmospheres. We’re getting better and better at finding exoplanets, and studying their atmospheres is the next step in understanding them as a whole.

Continue reading “Astronomers Have Found the Perfect Exoplanet to Study Another World’s Atmosphere”

TESS has Found 2,200 Potential Exoplanets so far

Exoplanetology has been on a tear recently.  This is largely due to an abundance of data collected by a new generation of satellites, one of which is the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).  Now the project has reached a new milestone with another release of data – 2,200 planet candidates collected, far surpassing the 1,600 expected candidates in the mission’s first two years.  Now comes a potentially even more daunting task – following up with each of them.

Continue reading “TESS has Found 2,200 Potential Exoplanets so far”

Just Some of the Planets That TESS Has Found Nearby

Ever since NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope was launched in 2009, there has an explosion in the study of the extrasolar planets. With the retirement of Kepler in 2018, it has fallen to missions like the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) to pick up where its predecessor left off. Using observations from TESS, an international team of astronomers recently discovered three exoplanets orbiting a young Sun-like star named TOI 451.

Continue reading “Just Some of the Planets That TESS Has Found Nearby”

A Sunlike Star Found With Four (No, Five!) Exoplanets Orbiting It

In just nine months (October 31st, 2021), NASA’s long-awaited James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will finally be launched to space. Once operational, this next-generation observatory will use its powerful infrared imaging capabilities to study all kinds of cosmological phenomena. It will also be essential to the characterization of extrasolar planets and their atmospheres to see if any are habitable.

In anticipation of this, astronomers have been designating exoplanets as viable candidates for follow-up studies. Using data from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), an international team led by MIT researchers discovered four new exoplanets orbiting a Sun-like star about 200 light-years from Earth. This system could be an ideal place for James Webb to spot a habitable planet.

Continue reading “A Sunlike Star Found With Four (No, Five!) Exoplanets Orbiting It”

Time Flies. NASA Releases a Mosaic of TESS’ View of the Northern Sky After Two Years of Operation

NASA’s TESS planet-finding spacecraft completed its primary mission about 3 months ago. TESS’s (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) job was to search the brightest stars nearest to Earth for transiting exoplanets. It found 74 confirmed exoplanets, with another ~1200 candidates awaiting confirmation.

It surveyed 75% of the sky during its two-year primary mission, and now NASA has released a composite image of the northern sky, made up of more than 200 individual images.

Continue reading “Time Flies. NASA Releases a Mosaic of TESS’ View of the Northern Sky After Two Years of Operation”

Machine Learning Algorithm Scoops up 50 New Exoplanets

Advances in technology are having a profound impact on astronomy and astrophysics. At one end, we have advanced hardware like adaptive optics, coronographs, and spectrometers that allow for more light to be gathered from the cosmos. At the other end, we have improved software and machine learning algorithms that are allowing for the data to be analyzed and mined for valuable nuggets of information.

One area of research where this is proving to be invaluable is in the hunt for exoplanets and the search for life. At the University of Warwick, technicians recently developed an algorithm that was able to confirm the existence of 50 new exoplanets. When used to sort through archival data, this algorithm was able to sort through a sample of candidates and determine which were actual planets and which were false positives.

Continue reading “Machine Learning Algorithm Scoops up 50 New Exoplanets”

Astronomers Thought They’d Found a Red Dwarf That Wasn’t Hostile to its Habitable Zone Planets. They Were Wrong

In the past decade, the study of exoplanets has grown by leaps and bounds. At present, a total of 4,201 planets have been confirmed beyond the Solar System and another 5,481 candidates await confirmation. In the midst of all this, M-type red dwarf stars have become a focus of exoplanet research because they appear to be the most likely place where rocky (aka. Earth-like) planets can be found orbiting within the star’s habitable zone (HZ).

However, that does not mean that red dwarf stars are good candidates for hosting habitable planets. Take GJ 887, for example, one of the brightest M stars in the sky that has a system of two (possibly three) planets. In the past, this star was believed to be calm and stable, but new research by astronomers from Arizona State University has shown that GJ 887 might not be so calm as previously thought.

Continue reading “Astronomers Thought They’d Found a Red Dwarf That Wasn’t Hostile to its Habitable Zone Planets. They Were Wrong”