2012 marks the first year in three decades that the U.S. is not launching its own publicly funded manned space vehicle, and it could also be China's year to shine, on Earth and in space. It's a transition period for American space exploration, but even amid all this change there's something greater, yet less tangible, that's lacking: As a country, we need a clear mission. America's unofficial space spokesman, Neil deGrasse Tyson, has something to say about that.
Tyson, a science crusader and regular guest on "The Daily Show" and other outlets, has a brand-new book out that tackles some of America's profound space questions. "Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier" is a collection of essays, a few of which have already appeared in other publications.
The James Webb Space Telescope may someday put Hubble out of business, but until then NASA’s old standby is still making new discoveries. Today, that comes to us in the form of the first exoplanet “waterworld”--a water-covered planet shrouded by a dense, steamy atmosphere, the first confirmed planet of its kind.
The hits just keep on coming out of Austin this week as the 219th meeting of the American Astronomical Society rolls on. Researchers there have announced the discovery of the first Saturn-like ringed object outside our solar system, documented when researchers were trying to diagnose the cause of a strange eclipsing effect emanating from a nearby star.
Each star in the Milky Way shines its light upon at least one companion planet, according to a new analysis that suddenly renders exoplanets commonplace, the rule rather than the exception. This means there are billions of worlds just in our corner of the cosmos. This is a major shift from just a few years ago, when many scientists thought planets were tricky to make, and therefore special things. Now we know they're more common than stars themselves.
"Planets are like bunnies; you don't just get one, you get a bunch," said Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute who was not involved in this research.
We may never see the surface of a planet in another solar system, but that doesn’t mean we can’t imagine it with great accuracy. Equipped with careful observations, it’s possible to visualize the sunset as it would look from a distant exoplanet. This is what it looks like.
Two more little Earth-sized planets have been discovered orbiting a distant star, astronomers said Wednesday, and their bizarre baked death may foreshadow the destiny of our own solar system. The publication comes a day after the announcement of the first Earth-sized planets ever confirmed outside our solar system. Already firmly in the exoplanet age, we're apparently entering an era of exo-Earths, full of small worlds with a past and a future very much like our own.
Two small, scorched Earth-sized worlds orbiting a reddish sun-like star in the Cygnus constellation mark yet another milestone for the storied Kepler Space Telescope mission. They're the smallest exoplanets found to date — one of them is just 1.03 times the size of Earth, a veritable body double.
Nestled in the Goldilocks zone of a small, sun-like star is a room-temperature world a little more than twice the size of Earth. Scientists do not yet know if it is rocky or gaseous and whether it has water or clouds, but they do know that it's the right size, and in the right place, for liquid water to exist. If it does exist, it may be one of the best places to look for life outside of our solar system.
The new planet, Kepler-22, is about 600 light-years away and the smallest planet confirmed to exist smack in the middle of the habitable zone of a sun-like star. It's one of the most stunning announcements from the Kepler Space Telescope, which stares at a field of stars in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra and looks for blips in brightness to find other planets. While Kepler has (as of today) found more than 2,000 possible planets, finding an Earth-like world in a sun-like environment has proved elusive — until now.
These days, every exoplanet discovery is still rich with excitement, as astronomers scrutinize each distant world and consider its possible characteristics. But this could get tedious pretty soon, as the number of confirmed exoplanets climbs into the thousands. When that happens, astronomers and especially astrobiologists will have to start sifting planets according to their interestingness. A new paper to be published next month describes a new two-step ranking system to make this process easier. We spoke to astrobiologist Dirk Schulze-Makuch to get some details.
The search for extraterrestrial life elsewhere in our universe has taken many forms, from the radio signal searching undertaken by SETI to the rovers and probes deployed elsewhere in our universe. But if it's intelligent civilizations we're looking for, say a couple of Harvard and Princeton researchers, we can likely find them just by literally looking for them.