Recently in the Extrasolar Planets Category


Thanks to NASA's Kepler and Spitzer Space Telescopes, scientists have made the most precise measurement ever of the radius of a planet outside our solar system.

SPHERE -- the Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch instrument -- has been installed on ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the Paranal Observatory in Chile and has achieved first light.

The team received good news from NASA HQ -- the K2 mission, the two-wheel operation mode of the Kepler spacecraft observing in the ecliptic, has been approved based on a recommendation from the agency's 2014 Senior Review of its operating missions.

Odd Planet, So Far from Its Star

An international team led by Université de Montréal researchers has discovered and photographed a new planet 155 light-years from our solar system.

Under normal circumstances most people who dream of staring into space would need to purchase a telescope and a copy of 'Astronomy for Dummies' to make sense of it all.

Mysteries of one of the most fascinating nearby planetary systems now have been solved, report authors of a scientific paper to be published by the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society in its early online edition on 22 April 2014.

In a dim and faraway solar system, astronomers have for the first time discovered a rocky, Earth-sized planet that might hold liquid water -- a necessary ingredient for life as we know it.

Astronomers say that magnetic storms in the gas orbiting young stars may explain a mystery that has persisted since before 2006.

After nearly a decade of development, construction, and testing, the world's most advanced instrument for directly imaging and analyzing planets around other stars is pointing skyward and collecting light from distant worlds.

More than three-quarters of the planet candidates discovered by NASA's Kepler spacecraft have sizes ranging from that of Earth to that of Neptune, which is nearly four times as big as Earth.

Astronomers used the SOPHIE spectrograph at the Observatoire de Haute-Provence, to confirm the presence of Kepler-88 c, an unseen planet previously predicted thanks to the gravitational perturbation it caused on its transiting brother planet, Kepler-88 b.

Nearby Failed Stars May Harbor Planet

Astronomers, including Carnegie's Yuri Beletsky, took precise measurements of the closest pair of failed stars to the Sun, which suggest that the system harbors a third, planetary-mass object.

Astronomers have discovered the most distantly orbiting planet found to date around a single, Sun-like star. It is the first exoplanet -- a planet outside of our solar system -- discovered at the University of Arizona.

Another Solar System Similar To Our Own

A team of astrophysicists at the German Aerospace Center, together with German and other European colleagues, has discovered the most extensive planetary system to date.

Scientists from University of California, Berkeley, and University of Hawaii, Manoa, have statistically determined that twenty percent of Sun-like stars in our solar system have Earth-sized planets that could host life

Planets Found Skimming Star's Surface

A new planet-hunting survey has revealed planetary candidates with orbital periods as short as four hours and so close to their host stars that they are nearly skimming the stellar surface.

Several exoplanets have recently been imaged at wide separations of >10 AU from their parent stars. These span a limited range of ages (<50 Myr) and atmospheric properties, with temperatures of 800--1800 K and very red colors (J - H > 0.5 mag), implying thick cloud covers.

"We report the latest Planet Hunter results, including PH2 b, a Jupiter-size (R_PL = 10.12 \pm 0.56 R_E) planet orbiting in the habitable zone of a solar-type star. PH2 b was elevated from candidate status when a series of false positive tests yielded a 99.9% confidence level that transit events detected around the star KIC 12735740 had a planetary origin. Planet Hunter volunteers have also discovered 42 new planet candidates in the Kepler public archive data, of which 33 have at least three transits recorded. Most of these transit candidates have orbital periods longer than 100 days and 20 are potentially located in the habitable zones of their host stars. Nine candidates were detected with only two transit events and the prospective periods are longer than 400 days. The photometric models suggest that these objects have radii that range between Neptune to Jupiter. These detections nearly double the number of gas giant planet candidates orbiting at habitable zone distances. We conducted spectroscopic observations for nine of the brighter targets to improve the stellar parameters and we obtained adaptive optics imaging for four of the stars to search for blended background or foreground stars that could confuse our photometric modeling. We present an iterative analysis method to derive the stellar and planet properties and uncertainties by combining the available spectroscopic parameters, stellar evolution models, and transiting light curve parameters, weighted by the measurement errors. Planet Hunters is a citizen science project that crowd-sources the assessment of NASA Kepler light curves. The discovery of these 43 planet candidates demonstrates the success of citizen scientists at identifying planet candidates, even in longer period orbits with only two or three transit events." More

"In December 2012, Austria will launch its first two satellites: UniBRITE and BRITE-Austria. This is the first pair of three, forming a network called BRITE-Constellation. The other pairs being contributed by Canada and Poland. The primary goal of BRITE-Constellation is the exploration of short term intensity variations of bright stars (V>6 mag) for a few years. For each satellite pair, one will employ a blue filter and the other a red filter. With the discovery of the first exoplanet in 1992, more than 800 have been detected since. The high-precision photometry from the BRITE instrument will enable a transit search for exoplanets around bright stars. To estimate the capability of BRITE to detect planets, we include in our calculations technical constraints, such as photometric noise levels for stars accessible by BRITE, the duty cycle and duration of observations. The most important parameter is the fraction of stars harboring a planet. Our simulation is based on 2695 stars distributed over the entire sky. Kepler data indicate that at minimum 34% of all stars are orbited by at least one of five different planetary sizes: Earth, Super-Earth, Uranus, Jupiter and Super-Jupiter. Depending on the duty cycle and duration of the observations, about six planets should be detectable in 180 days, of which about five of them being of Jupiter size." More

"Detections of massive extrasolar moons are shown feasible with the Kepler space telescope. Kepler's findings of about 50 exoplanets in the stellar habitable zone naturally make us wonder about the habitability of their hypothetical moons. Illumination from the planet, eclipses, tidal heating, and tidal locking distinguish remote characterization of exomoons from that of exoplanets. We show how evaluation of an exomoon's habitability is possible based on the parameters accessible by current and near-future technology." More

"The data presented in this paper are the result of the efforts of the Planet Hunters volunteers, without whom this work would not have been possible. Their contributions are individually ac- knowledged at http://www.planethunters.org/authors. We also acknowledge the following list of individuals who flagged one or more of the transit events on Talk discussed in this paper before or after discovery of the planet: Hans Martin Schwengeler, Dr. Johann Sejpka, and Arvin Joseff Tan." More

Small Telescope - Big Discovery

Extremely Little Telescope Discovers Pair of Odd Planets

"The KELT team scans those bright stars, and watches to see if the starlight dims just a little -- an indication that a planet has crossed in front of the star. The technique is called the "transit method," and takes advantage of situations such as the recent transit of Venus across the face of the Sun in our own solar system. It's a low-cost means of planet-hunting, using mostly off-the-shelf technology; whereas a traditional astronomical telescope costs millions of dollars to build, the hardware for a KELT telescope runs less than $75,000."

Cubesats and Extrasolar Planets

How a Pocket-Size Satellite Could Find Another Earth, Time

What makes ExoplanetSat even more un-NASA-like is that it began as a class project -- although admittedly, the class was at MIT. It was a design-and-build course, which the university's engineering students have to take in order to graduate. In a recent semester, the class was co-taught by Sara Seager, an astrophysicist who has done groundbreaking research studying how the atmospheres of planets orbiting distant stars might look like from earthly telescopes. Seager recruited five science undergrads to join her engineers, on the theory that out in the real world, they'd eventually have to work with engineers anyway.

Kepler Explorer App

Kepler Explorer App Puts Distant Planets at Fingertips

"Now available for free from the iTunes App Store, Kepler Explorer was developed through the OpenLab initiative at UC Santa Cruz, which brought together faculty and students in astrophysics, art, and technology for a summer institute last year. The Kepler Explorer team includes astrophysicist Jonathan Fortney, a member of the Kepler science team; two of his graduate students, Eric Lopez and Caroline Morley; artist Kyle McKinley, a recent graduate of the Digital Arts and New Media program; and John Peters, a recent graduate of the computer game design program."

Oscillations in the Habitable Zone around Alpha Centauri B

"The Alpha Centauri AB system is an attractive one for radial velocity observations to detect potential exoplanets. The high metallicity of both Alpha Centauri A and B suggest that they could have possessed circumstellar discs capable of forming planets. As the closest star system to the Sun, with well over a century of accurate astrometric measurements (and Alpha Centauri B exhibiting low chromospheric activity) high precision surveys of Alpha Centauri B's potential exoplanetary system are possible with relatively cheap instrumentation."

Finding New Planets in Old Data

Planets Found in Decade-Old Hubble Data

"In a painstaking re-analysis of Hubble Space Telescope images from 1998, astronomers have found visual evidence for two extrasolar planets that went undetected back then. Finding these hidden gems in the Hubble archive gives astronomers an invaluable time machine for comparing much earlier planet orbital motion data to more recent observations. It also demonstrates a novel approach for planet hunting in archival Hubble data."

Planet Hunters: The First Two Planet Candidates Identified by the Public using the Kepler Public Archive Data

"Planet Hunters is a new citizen science project, designed to engage the public in an exoplanet search using NASA Kepler public release data. In the first month after launch, users identified two new planet candidates which survived our checks for false- positives. The follow-up effort included analysis of Keck HIRES spectra of the host stars, analysis of pixel centroid offsets in the Kepler data and adaptive optics imaging at Keck using NIRC2."

From the Comfort of Home, Web Users May Have Found New Planets, Yale University

"These three candidates might have gone undetected without Planet Hunters and its citizen scientists," said Meg Schwamb, a Yale researcher and Planet Hunters co-founder. "Obviously Planet Hunters doesn't replace the analysis being done by the Kepler team. But it has proven itself to be a valuable tool in the search for other worlds."

Think about this: One would think that with this announcement - one that comes on the heels of the Tatooine discovery last week - that the Kepler team would be working overtime on a way to throw more of its data out - sooner - such that they can harness the crowd-sourced power of interested citizens motivated to make a contribution to the discovery of worlds circling other stars. Not only does this help in times of limited budgets, it allows the citizenry a chance to truly participate in their space agency's exploration of the universe - and therein transform that formerly distant, lofty activity into a personal one. When things get personal, people tend to want to stand up and fight for those things.

Students Build Planet-hunting Miniature Satellite

"Most college finals end up in a stack on a professor's desk. For one group of MIT students, however, their three-semester long project has a slightly different destination - outer space. The final in this case is an exoplanet-finding "CubeSat" - a small, rectangular satellite that's about as long as a skateboard and as heavy as a bowling ball. Over the course of three semesters, MIT students have developed parts of the mission from initial concepts to functioning hardware, aiming for launch in 2012."

NASA To Announce Kepler Discovery At Media Briefing

"NASA will host a news briefing at 11 a.m. PDT, Thursday, Sept. 15, to announce a new discovery by the Kepler mission. The briefing will be held in the Syvertson auditorium, building N-201, at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. ... A representative from Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), a division of Lucasfilm Ltd., will join a panel of scientists to discuss the discovery. "

Keith's note: Lucasfilm, eh? Hmm, wonder what they have found, do you? stay tuned.

The Kepler science team announced on Aug. 12 the next release of data to the public archive. Quarter three science data collected during the months of September to December 2009 will be available for download on Sept. 23, 2011. Kepler is the first NASA mission capable of finding Earth-size planets in or near the "habitable zone," the region in a planetary system where liquid water can exist on the surface of the orbiting planet. Although additional observations will be needed over time to reach that milestone, Kepler is detecting planets and planet candidates with a wide range of sizes and orbital distances to help us better understand our place in the galaxy. More.

NASA Ames to Host Planet-Finding Tweetup

NASA will host about 100 registered people to go "behind-the scenes" and learn about planetary discoveries announced last week by the Kepler mission and science flights conducted by NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) aircraft. The event will kick off at the NASA Ames Exploration Center at 10 a.m. PST Friday, Feb. 11, at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. The Tweetup will feature several speakers, including Kepler Deputy Science Team Lead Natalie Batalha, SOFIA Project Scientist Pamela Marcum and David Morrison, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe.