Billions of potentially Earth-like planets in our galaxy

Astronomers now estimate that about one in five sun-like stars in our galaxy has an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone. Credit: UC Berkeley
Astronomers now estimate that about one in five sun-like stars in our galaxy has an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone. Credit: UC Berkeley

Some exciting exoplanet news this week: based on the newest data from the Kepler space telescope, astronomers now estimate that there are billions of potentially habitable planets in our galaxy which are about the same size as Earth and orbit in the habitable zone of their stars, it was announced yesterday.

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Astronomers confirm first Earth-sized rocky exoplanet

Artist's conception of Kepler-7b. Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)
Artist’s conception of Kepler-78b. Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)

For the first time, an exoplanet orbiting another star has been discovered which is similar to Earth in size, mass and composition, it was announced today. Astronomers confirmed the finding using data from the Kepler space telescope.

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Today’s weather forecast is patchy clouds – on exoplanet Kepler-7b

Size comparison between Kepler-7b (left) and Jupiter (right). Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MIT
Size comparison between Kepler-7b (left) and Jupiter (right).
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MIT

Patchy clouds in the west and clear skies in the east. That is the current weather forecast, not for anywhere on Earth, but for a much more distant world in another solar system. For the first time, astronomers have been able to map cloud patterns on such a far-away exoplanet, it was announced on September 30, 2013.

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Astronomers discover giant colourful exoplanet

Artist's conception of GJ 504b. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/S. Wiessinger
Artist’s conception of GJ 504b. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center / S. Wiessinger

First there was the blue exoplanet found recently, and now astronomers have discovered another colourful world, a gas giant much larger than Jupiter.

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It’s an alien blue world – but nothing like Earth

Artist’s conception of exoplanet HD 189733b—a “deep blue dot” reminiscent of Earth from a distance. Image Credit: NASA / ESA / M. Kornmesser
Artist’s conception of exoplanet HD 189733b – a “deep blue dot” reminiscent of Earth from a distance. Credit: NASA / ESA / M. Kornmesser

The planets and moons in our Solar System come in a wide variety of colours, and the natural beauty can be breathtaking. Now, the true colour of a much more distant planet has been seen for the first time – and it’s blue!

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Can Kepler be saved? Engineering team to attempt recovery of ailing space telescope

Artist's illustration of Kepler in orbit. Credit: NASA / Kepler mission / Wendy Stenzel
Artist’s illustration of Kepler in orbit. Credit: NASA / Kepler mission / Wendy Stenzel

The Kepler space telescope has been nothing short of incredible, revolutionizing our understanding of exoplanets and showing just how common and diverse they really are (as the saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction). Recently, however, additional mechanical problems have started plaguing the mission, threatening to cut it short. The news during the past few weeks has been pessimistic, declaring that Kepler’s planet-hunting days are all but over. But there is still hope, as announced by the mission’s engineering team, that further testing later this month can help to resolve the situation.

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Three ‘super-Earth’ planets discovered orbiting in habitable zone of nearby star

Artist's conception of the view from one of three super-Earth planets orbiting the star Gliese 667C, showing all three stars of the Gliese 667 system.
Artist’s conception of the view from one of three super-Earth planets orbiting the star Gliese 667C, showing all three stars of the Gliese 667 system. Credit: ESO

There is some exciting news today regarding exoplanets – for the first time, multiple planets have been found orbiting within the habitable zone of their star, the region where temperatures can allow liquid water to exist on planets with rocky surfaces, like Earth. The news release was published this morning by the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

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New evidence from Hubble Space Telescope for exoplanet that ‘shouldn’t be there’

Hubble image and illustration showing the gap in the planetary disk surrounding TW Hydrae. Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Debes (STScI), H. Jang-Condell (University of Wyoming), A. Weinberger (Carnegie Institution of Washington), A. Roberge (Goddard Space Flight Center), G. Schneider (University of Arizona/Steward Observatory), and A. Feild (STScI/AURA)
Hubble image and illustration showing the gap in the planetary disk surrounding TW Hydrae.
Click for larger version. Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Debes (STScI), H. Jang-Condell (University of Wyoming), A. Weinberger (Carnegie Institution of Washington), A. Roberge (Goddard Space Flight Center), G. Schneider (University of Arizona/Steward Observatory), A. Feild (STScI/AURA)

So far, thousands of exoplanets and exoplanet candidates have been found orbiting other stars. As well, astronomers have seen some exoplanets still in the process of formation, providing clues as to how our own solar system came to be. One of these recent “planet-under-construction” findings however is challenging current theories on planetary formation – it’s a planet which “shouldn’t be there” according to conventional wisdom.

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Three new possibly habitable ‘super-Earth’ planets discovered

Artist conceptions of the habitable zone planets found so far by Kepler, compared to Earth on the far right. From left to right: Kepler-22b, Kepler-69c, Kepler-62e, Kepler-62f and Earth. Credit: NASA Ames / JPL-Caltech
Artist conceptions of the habitable zone planets found so far by Kepler, compared to Earth on the far right. From left to right: Kepler-22b, Kepler-69c, Kepler-62e, Kepler-62f and Earth.
Credit: NASA Ames / JPL-Caltech

There is some more exciting news from the Kepler space telescope mission – as announced in a NASA press briefing this morning, three more planets have been detected orbiting in their stars’ habitable zones. Larger planets have been found already in this zone around various stars, but what makes this newest discovery so compelling is that these new planets are the smallest found so far in this zone, so-called “super-Earths.” Two of them may even be covered by oceans!

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New space telescope will continue search for Earth-like worlds

Artist's conception of TESS. Credit: Chet Beals / MIT Lincoln Lab
Artist’s conception of TESS. Credit: Chet Beals / MIT Lincoln Lab

The Kepler space telescope has already found thousands of exoplanets orbiting other stars, and now the next space telescope to join the search has been announced.

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