In the pantheon of modern astronomical explorers, the Kepler Space Telescope ranks right near the top, uncovering more than 1,200 worlds outside our solar system while staring at just a small fraction of the sky. Kepler has unveiled searingly hot, tiny terrestrial worlds, planets potentially sharing an orbit, an especially inky light-absorbing planet, and 54 planets comfortably ensconced in the Goldilocks zones of their stars. In September, Kepler astronomers announced yet another bizarre discovery: A planet orbiting around a binary star system, just like a certain dun-colored world in a certain science fiction film sextet.
But most people likely didn't know this exciting find — doubtless one of Kepler's most famous discoveries to date — was initially someone else's trash. Laurance Doyle happily sifted through it, leading to one of the biggest scientific discoveries of the year.
A pair of new comet studies from two space telescopes show how other planets might grow oceans. For the first time, astronomers have detected a ring of cold water vapor encircling a young star's dusty planetary disk. And a separate study in a different star system shows a hailstorm of icy bodies could be bombarding a young planet.
Astronomers have captured the first direct image of a newly forming planet orbiting around its star, using mirrors to blot out the star's blinding light. The LkCa 15 system contains a hot, coalescing world sitting in a gap between the star and an outer disk of dust, exactly in accord with most theories of how planets are born.
One of the fun things about astronomy is that we can only know so much through empirical observation, yet we can “know” so much more through enlightened, mathematical guesswork. Such is the nature of the most interesting new science paper I’ve come across on the Internet today. In it, Wesley Traub of CalTech crunches some Kepler data and makes a tantalizing mathematical prediction: one-third of sun-like stars have at least one earth-like terrestrial planet orbiting in their habitable zones.
By John Mahoney and Katie PeekPosted 09.15.2011 at 2:00 pm 21 Comments
A mournful French horn blows. An angsty Luke Skywalker stomps out of his aunt and uncle's sand hut and peers up at Tatooine's double sunset, his hair blowing in the breeze. It's a memorable scene from Star Wars—but now, a precedent for such a sky with two suns has been found in our universe.
Using data from the Kepler space observatory, scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and SETI have discovered for the first time a planet orbiting a binary star system, passing in front of both its parent stars along its orbit.
Scientists have tracked down another goldilocks planet 31 light-years from Earth, and according to astronomers it has some strong points in its favor when it comes to the possibility of harboring the ingredients for life. HD85512b orbits an orange dwarf in the constellation Vela, and it’s just the right distance from the sun--and just the right mass--to rank among the most Earth-like planets ever discovered.
Kepler has found the darkest known planet in universe--a Jupiter-sized exoplanet some 750 light-years away that is so black that it reflects just one percent of the light that reaches it. TrES-2b is so black that it’s darker than coal, or any other planet or moon that we’ve yet discovered. It’s less reflective than black acrylic paint. To summarize: it’s really, really black.
A gigantic radio telescope in Virginia has started listening to 86 Earth-like planet candidates identified by the Kepler Space Telescope, hoping to hear signs of alien life. Astronomers aren’t even sure the stars to which they are listening actually harbor planets, let alone radio-communicating extraterrestrials, but hey, we might as well bend an ear, right?
Aliens could conceivably live on planets illuminated by the swirling mass of photons orbiting the singularity of a special type of black hole, according to a new theory.
Certain black holes are charged and rotate, and they possess a region past the event horizon — the point of no return — in which the fabric of spacetime appears normal again. This is called the inner Cauchy horizon.
Finding advanced alien races in other parts of the galaxy isn't so hard, according to Duncan Forgan of the University of Edinburgh and Martin Elvis at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Rather than look for direct evidence of cloud cities anchored to far-off rocks, we simply need to ask ourselves what our civilization might look like in the future, then look for signs of that. Specifically, we need to look at other planetary systems' asteroid belts for signs of mining.