Hubble’s Best View of a Planetary Disk

At one point in history, let’s say around 1994, astronomers were fairly confident in their understanding of the formation of planetary systems.  Even though at the time we hadn’t found any planets orbiting other stars, they had long been theorized, and we figured that systems would form much like our own solar system.  Rocky planets in the interior, gaseous giants further out, and a huge icy debris field at the outer edges. And then along came 51 Pegasi b.  Half the mass of Jupiter, it orbits its star in only 4 days, far closer than Mercury.  It was considered a...

A Planet is being Vapourized by its Home Star

At least once a month we hear of a new exoplanet with a strange and amazing story.  From the ‘Super-Saturn’ ringed world to Magnetic Fields to systems of three Earths, there is an abundance of planets and strange systems. The latest weird discovery brings us to a star 1,500 light years away in the constellation Cygnus.  The small-Mercury sized planet it hosts orbits in only 16 hours, bringing its surface temperature to over 1,800 degrees celsius.  This amount of heat is enough to vapourize rock, and so the star is literally roasting the planet and blasting away its surface.  The dust...

Think the Seasons are Crazy here? Check out Kepler-432b!

It’s been cold lately.  The temperature has fallen somewhere between Hoth and Pluto, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to change any time soon.  It seems we complain about the weather no matter the season.  It’s too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, too bright, too dark.  We do have a lot of variation in the seasons, but compared to some other planets, Earth is pretty mild in its climate. One such case is the recently discovered Kepler 432b.  A massive planet six times heavier than Jupiter with a comparable size, it orbits closer to its parent star than Mercury...

The Gold Rush of the Galaxy – Exoplanets

I’ve always been a fan of data visualization.  We have so much raw data in the world that can reveal incredible information about our Universe, and the only thing stopping us is the time to analyse it all.  Sometime data visualizations pop up that really put things into perspective, help us see trends that we didn’t know of before, and offer insights into where we should look in the future.  I feel like I find something amazing that someone has produced on a daily basis, and being able to visualize complex data can give anyone a deeper understanding of the...

Planets as Old as Time Itself

There has been a lot of planetary news lately, in our own solar system and beyond.  With the DAWN spacecraft approaching Ceres, New Horizons finally reaching Pluto in a few months, and the Kepler Space Telescope giving results from it’s new observing run.  Not to mention comet Lovejoy, Mars Rover anniversary, and the Venus Metal Frost story. Normally I would pass on so much planetary news, even though it is one of my favourite areas of Astronomy.  This story, however, is just too good to pass up. Kepler 444, a very ancient star 117 light years from Earth, about 25% smaller than...

Rings around this Exoplanet put Saturn to Shame

Move over Saturn, J1407b has rings that are far more spectacular than anyone would have imagined.  This distant ‘planet’ (It may not actually be a planet) orbits an orange star 117 light-years away in the constellation Centaurus, and has a ring system consisting of 30 separate rings, each of which could be tens of Millions of Kilometres wide. In Spring of 2007, while monitoring the light from the star, astronomers noticed that the star was being eclipsed multiple times to varying degrees.  This led the team, consisting of astronomers from Leiden Observatory and the University of Rochester, to conclude that...

Three New Earth Sized Planets Found Orbiting Distant Star

As the Kepler Space Telescope continues work on its second mission, the slow trickle of new exoplanet discoveries has begun.  In the past few weeks scientists working with Kepler data have been able to identify new planets, and of course the variation continues to surprise us all. Most Recently, Kepler discovered a system of three planets orbiting the nearby red dwarf star EPIC 201367065, which is about half the size and mass of the Sun.  The planets are all super-Earths, being only 2.1, 1.7, and 1.5 times the size of Earth and receiving 10.5, 3.2 and 1.4 times the light intensity of Earth...

Magnetic Fields on Distant Exoplanets?

Twenty Years of exoplanet research has seen incredible advances in detecting planets orbiting distant stars, as well as their size, orbit period, orbit distance, and even atmospheric composition.  But the next step in understanding exoplanets is to learn about their magnetic fields. We know that many exoplanets should have magnetic fields.  It makes sense, since nearly every world in our own solar system has some sort of magnetism.  But for the first time, an international team of Astronomers, led by Kristina Kislyakova of the Space Research Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, have discovered a way to detect magnetic fields...