Tagged With exoplanets

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Ever since astronomers announced the discovery of an Earth-sized exoplanet less than five light years down the cosmic street, the question on every good space cadet's mind has been whether or not we can colonise it. We aren't going to know if Proxima b is habitable until we can point some very powerful telescopes at it, which won't happen until next year. But until then, scientists are playing around with models — and one such modelling effort recently came to some promising conclusions.

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When astronomers announced the discovery of seven Earth-sized planets orbiting the ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1, Earthlings immediately celebrated the possibility that one of those planetary neighbours could host life. But to physicists, TRAPPIST-1 presented a puzzle: How could those seven planets, all packed around a single star closer than Mercury orbits the Sun, survive? Why haven't they all crashed into each other?

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Over 70 per cent of our planet is covered in water, and we tend to think that's a lot. A new study suggests that our world is special in this regard, and that most habitable planets are dominated by oceans that consume over 90 per cent their surface area. That may be good for primitive marine life, but not so good for aspiring civilisations.

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It seems like every week, there's a new contender for Coolest Planet Where There Are Definitely Aliens. For those of us who want to believe, this is an emotionally exhausting cycle, as we're built up and let down time and again. At the risk of screwing with our fragile hearts even more, it's worth mentioning that a recently discovered exoplanet 39 light-years from Earth might actually give the current favourites — Proxima b and the TRAPPIST-1 system — a run for their money.

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In February, Earthlings rightfully cheered when NASA announced the discovery of seven Earth-like planets huddled together around an ultracool dwarf star. The system, called TRAPPIST-1, is especially appealing because it has three planets in the habitable zone, meaning their surfaces could hypothetically support liquid water and even life. As a result, everyone from seasoned astronomers to tinfoil hat believers (*raises hand*) wants to get a piece of that sweet TRAPPIST-1 pie and find some alien babies. But sadly, our hopes might already be dashed. Only a little. Maybe.

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The TRAPPIST-1 system has totally entranced Earthlings since NASA announced its discovery last month. For both astronomers and tinfoil hat believers (*raises hand*), TRAPPIST-1 is a sign of hope for finding alien life, since three of its planets are located in the habitable zone which supports liquid water. With water comes life, and with life comes alien conspiracy theories — at least that's the idea.

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Last month, the solar system lost its collective chill when NASA announced the discovery of a seven-planet system called TRAPPIST-1, just 39 light-years from our Sun. The system is particularly exciting, not only because of its proximity to our planet, but because it has three planets within the habitable zone, where liquid water (and potentially life) could be supported. There's already a website dedicated to these mysterious planets, filled with stunning art and literal fan fiction. In short, TRAPPIST-1 is already getting the One Direction treatment.

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On Wednesday, Earthlings were shocked — and certainly relieved — to finally get a push notification about planetary discovery, not political corruption. News broke that an international team of scientists had spied seven Earth-sized planets orbiting the nearby star TRAPPIST-1. Three of those planets are located in the habitable zone, where liquid water might form. NASA, the unofficial conductor of this hype train, is doing everything in its power to drum up public excitement — including building a mythology for TRAPPIST-1 that blends science fact and fiction.

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Calling all space cadets: Today, a group of researchers led by the Carnegie Institute of Science released an impressive database containing 61,000 so-called Doppler velocity measurements of 1600 nearby stars. The team is graciously inviting you to use their data to find the next exoplanet. Go forth and become drunk with power.

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Scientists have detected thousands of exoplanets in recent years, by catching dips in light as they orbit their parent stars. These days, finding new ones isn't usually such a big deal. But taking direct images of exoplanets, and turning them into videos so we can watch their orbits, makes these faraway worlds a little more real.