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Exoplanets: February 2013



Astronomers using ESO's Very Large Telescope have obtained what is likely the first direct observation of a forming planet still embedded in a thick disc of gas and dust. If confirmed, this discovery will greatly improve our understanding of how planets form and allow astronomers to test the current theories against an observable target.


An international team of astronomers has used nearly three years of high precision data from NASA's Kepler spacecraft to make the first observations of a planet outside our solar system that's smaller than Mercury, the smallest planet orbiting our sun.

In this 8th session of the internet-based live lectures between Universities and Institutes, Dr. Heike Rauer gives an overview on the current status of exoplanet detections with focus on terrestrial planets in and near the habitable zone, detected by different techniques from ground- and space-based observations.


Using publicly available data from NASA's Kepler space telescope, astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) have found that six percent of red dwarf stars have habitable, Earth-sized planets. Since red dwarfs are the most common stars in our galaxy, the closest Earth-like planet could be just 13 light-years away.

In the last two decades astronomers have found hundreds of planets in orbit around other stars. One type of these so-called 'exoplanets' is the super-Earths that are thought to have a high proportion of rock but at the same time are significantly bigger than our own world.