Imaginary Exoplanets Found in the Tops of San Francisco’s Fire Hydrants
Lord of the Rings, Saturn
(Source: National Geographic)
Planets Series by Colin Nichols
Newfound Alien Planet a Top Contender to Host Life
In the image: Artist’s rendition of the “super Earth” Gliese 163c, which may be capable of supporting microbial life.
A newly discovered alien planet may be one of the top contenders to support life beyond Earth, researchers say.
The newfound world, a “super Earth” called Gliese 163c, lies at the edge of its star’s habitable zone — that just-right range of distances where liquid water could exist.
Beyond Earth by Stephen Di Donato’s Portfolio
Our Solar System Takes a Holiday by David Jordan Williams
No, this isn’t the twin of our solar system — but it’s proof that our planetary orbits aren’t a “fluke”
Yet another piece of evidence that our world is not as unique as we feared: There’s a solar system out there that’s like ours in one extremely vital respect, according to a group of scientists from MIT and the University of California at Santa Cruz.
The solar system, Kepler-30, has planets that travel along regularly aligned orbits. At the center of this solar system is the star Kepler-30a, with three planets traveling around it. The planets, dubbed Kepler-30b, 30c, and 30d, each follow orbiting paths similar to the ones Earth, Mars, or Jupiter travel as they dance around Sun.
Stable planetary orbits are exciting, as astronomers think stability of orbit is key for the existence of life. These planets are located within the Lyra constellation, the same constellation that holds the fictional planet K-PAX from the Kevin Spacey movie of the same name.
Researchers made the discovery while sifting through data obtained by the Kepler Space Telescope. The Kepler Space Telescope currently takes data on over 150,000 stars, with most astronomers gleaning the data in hopes of discovery exoplanets.
While analyzing the data from Kepler, the researchers honed in on a Sun-like star, Kepler-30a. By observing the location of several sunspots on Kepler, the scientists determined the alignment of the planets orbiting the solar system Kepler-30.
Co-author Joshua Winn spoke conservatively on linking the discover to our solar system:
We’ve been hungry for one like this, where it’s not exactly like the solar system, but at least it’s more normal, where the planets and the star are aligned with each other. […] It’s the first case where we can say that, besides the solar system.
In an official press release from NASA, Winn added:
It’s telling me that the solar system isn’t some fluke. […] The fact that the sun’s rotation is lined up with the planets’ orbits, that’s probably not some freak coincidence.
The newly discovered exoplanetary solar system Kepler-30 is not a carbon copy of ours, however. There are only three planets circling Kepler-30a versus the eight (or nine if you are a Pluto stalwart) circling our Sun.
The size of the planets orbiting Kepler-30a is under debate, with their complete orbital period needing additional study. Regardless, the discovery of the Kepler-30 system is exciting, possibly putting us one step closer to determining the conditions necessary for life or maybe — just maybe locating some distant friends in the universe.
Check out the full article, Alignment of the stellar spin with the orbits of a three-planet system, published this week in Nature. Image of the Kepler Space Telescope are from the NASA Ames Research Center. Images by Cristina Sanchis Ojeda/Ames Research Center.
The Strangest Alien Planets
1. The Smallest
This artist’s concept of Kepler-10b shows the smallest known exoplanet, announced in January 2011. [Full Story]
2. The Biggest
The largest exoplanet ever discovered is also one of the strangest and theoretically should not even exist, scientists say. Dubbed TrES-4, the planet is about 1.7 times the size of Jupiter and belongs to a small subclass of so-called puffy planets that have extremely low densities. The planet is located about 1,400 light years away from Earth and zips around its parent star in only three and a half days. [Full Story]
3. Hottest World
A planet called WASP-12b is the hottest planet ever discovered (about 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2,200 degrees Celsius), and orbits its star closer than any other known world. It orbits its star one every Earth day at a distance of about 2 million miles (3.4 million km). WASP-12b is a gaseous planet, about 1.5 times the mass of Jupiter, and almost twice the size. It is 870 light-years from Earth. [Full Story]
4. Most Habitable
One of the several planets within the Gliese 581 star system, called Gliese 581 d, may be one of the most potentially habitable alien worlds known. It is about 8 times the mass of Earth, and located in an orbit just right for liquid water to exist on the surface. Water is a key ingredient for life as we know it. Gliese 581 is a red dwarf star 20.5 light-years from Earth [Full Story]
5. Darkest Alien Planet TrES-2b
The distant exoplanet TrES-2b, shown here in an artist’s conception, is darker than the blackest coal. This Jupiter-sized world reflects less than one percent of the light that falls on it, making it blacker than any planet or moon in our solar system. It is 750 light-years from Earth. [Full Story]
Views of the Solar System by Cameron Stevens
This artist’s illustration gives an impression of how common planets are around the stars in the Milky Way. The planets, their orbits, and their host stars are all vastly magnified compared to their real separations.
NASA, ESA, and M. Kornmesser (ESO)
New Planet Found in Our Solar System?
Odd orbits of remote objects hint at unseen world, new calculations suggest.
In the Image: Artist’s conception of a small icy object beyond Pluto (file picture).
Too far out to be easily spotted by telescopes, the potential unseen planet appears to be making its presence felt by disturbing the orbits of so-called Kuiper belt objects, said Rodney Gomes, an astronomer at the National Observatory of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro.
Once considered the ninth planet in our system, the dwarf planet Pluto, for example, is one of the largest Kuiper belt objects, at about 1,400 miles (2,300 kilometers) wide. Dozens of the other objects are hundreds of miles across, and more are being discovered every year.
GRAVITATIONAL TUG OF ‘INVISIBLE’ EXOPLANET DISCOVERED
NASA’s Kepler space telescope finds planets beyond the solar system by looking for dips in starlight caused by planets parading past their parent stars, relative to Kepler’s point of view.
But there’s another method by which scientists can find sibling Kepler worlds beyond the telescope’s eye.
David Nesvorný, with the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., and colleagues parsed through Kepler data on a sunlike star designated “Kepler Object of Interest 872,” or KOI-872, and found something interesting — the planet’s transit was late.
1. RINGS FROM AFAR
Measuring 175,000 miles wide but as little as 30 feet thick, Saturn’s rings contain debris of varying ages and composition, all revolving at different speeds.
2. THREE MOONS
Titan and Dione, along with speck-sized Prometheus appear in rare alignment. Tiny so-called shepherd moons help shape the rings and prevent them from dispersing.
Concentric rings wind in front of Satrun’s biggest moon, Titan, with tiny Janus in teh foreground. The rings are so massive that they have their own atmosphere, separate from Saturn’s. Cassini found evidence of oxygen all around the icy rings.
4. RINGS CLOSE UP
100 Billion Planets
NASA, ESA, and M. Kornmesser (ESO)
When we see big pretty shots of the Milky Way, we’re only getting a partial view—the planets, some 100 billion of them, are too small to be seen. So NASA magnified some of them, and their orbits, so we can appreciate more than stars.
Uranus (19.6 AU), at 14 Earth masses, is the lightest of the outer planets. Uniquely among the planets, it orbits the Sun on its side; its axial tilt is over ninety degrees to the ecliptic. It has a much colder core than the other gas giants, and radiates very little heat into space.Uranus has 27 known satellites, the largest ones being Titania, Oberon, Umbriel, Ariel and Miranda.