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.
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.
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!
The Kepler space telescope has added another significant discovery to its growing list – the smallest exoplanet found so far (again) orbiting a sun-like star, it was announced on Wednesday.
There was more exciting exoplanet-related news this morning – a team of astronomers announced a new study today which estimates that there are likely about 4.5 billion “Earth-like” planets in our galaxy!
The new year has barely begun, and already it has been a good one for exoplanets. In a previous update, it was reported that the Kepler space telescope has added hundreds of exoplanet candidates to its rapidly growing list. That is exciting enough, but another new study now, similar to other ones, estimates that there are billions of other planets in our galaxy alone.
To say that the Kepler mission has been successful so far would be a major understatement – with 2,321 exoplanet candidates and 105 confirmed exoplanets to date, Kepler has revolutioned our understanding of planetary systems around other stars. Not all that long ago it wasn’t even known if any planets existed outside our solar system, and now they are being discovered on a regular basis.
Until recently, astronomers only knew about exoplanets which, like those in our own solar system, orbited a single star. Then, the first one was discovered which orbits two stars, much like Tatooine in the Star Wars films. Since then, other similar planets have been found, indicating that such circumbinary planets (those which orbit double stars) may be fairly common.
The number of confirmed exoplanets found by the Kepler space telescope has increased again, by 41. The planets, which orbit 20 different stars, range in size from about the same size as Earth to more than seven times Earth’s radius.
The results come from two new studies of the Kepler data; the papers are still in the process of being peer-reviewed, but the new discoveries should increase significantly the number of confirmed exoplanets found by Kepler so far. Currently, that number stands at 77, with 2,321 additional candidates awaiting confirmation.
See Examiner.com for the full article.