Are alien oceans common?

Oceans may be common early in the formation of rocky planets. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
Oceans may be common early in the formation of rocky planets. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

One of the unique characteristics of Earth which sets it apart from other known planets is its oceans. Such large bodies of surface water have not yet been found elsewhere, although a number of moons, including Europa, Enceladus and Titan and possibly others, are thought to have subsurface oceans and or seas.

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Gemini Planet Imager: new telescope will photograph distant worlds

Simulation of planets imaged by the Keck Telescope (left) compared to GPI (right). Credit: Christian Marois / Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics and Marshall Perrin/Space Telescope Science Institute
Simulation of planets imaged by the Keck Telescope (left) compared to GPI (right).
Credit: Christian Marois / Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics and Marshall Perrin/Space Telescope Science Institute

For those who wonder about alien worlds out there, this is an exciting time of discovery. The number of exoplanets found so far is now well into the thousands and rapidly growing. The one downside – if you can call it that – is that these planets, with just a few exceptions, have been discovered by methods other than direct imaging. So there are still precious few actual photos of any of these far-off worlds. But a new “extreme” telescope is set to start changing that.

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Is this the first photo of a planet being born?

Near-infrared image from the Very Large Telescope showing the still-forming protoplanet, the bright blob, near its star (which has been blocked out by the telescope to reduce the star's bright light). Credit: ESO
Near-infrared image from the Very Large Telescope showing the still-forming protoplanet, the bright blob, near its star (which has been blocked out by the telescope to reduce the star’s bright light). Credit: ESO

Astronomers have taken the first photo of what is thought to be a giant planet still in the process of forming near its star.

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