‘Super-Earth’ exoplanets may be more Earth-like than previously thought

With the number of known exoplanets being discovered now numbering in the thousands (and estimated to be in the billions in our galaxy alone), astronomers have already found an amazingly diverse plethora of worlds. Some of the most common are the “super-Earths,” rocky planets which are larger …

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Water plumes and clay-type minerals discovered on Jupiter’s ocean moon Europa

NASA and the European Space Agency have made several startling discoveries about the icy Jovian moon Europa. Credit: NASA/ESA
NASA and the European Space Agency have made several startling discoveries about the icy Jovian moon Europa. Credit: NASA/ESA

Europa has intrigued people for decades, ever since the first evidence was found that this small icy moon of Jupiter harbours a subsurface ocean. Additional information about the actual conditions below the surface have been difficult to obtain, since this ocean is covered by a global crust of ice perhaps ten of kilometres thick in places. But perseverance pays off, and now in just this past week there are two new significant discoveries being talked about – evidence from the Hubble Space Telescope for water vapour plumesannounced on Thursdayerupting from Europa’s surface similar to those on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and the first detection of clay-type minerals on the surface, announced on Wednesday.

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Curiosity rover confirms ancient Martian lake

View from Yellowknife Bay in Gale crater, looking west-northwest. This area of sedimentary deposits is now known to be the former bottom of a freshwater lake. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
View from Yellowknife Bay in Gale crater, looking west-northwest. This area of sedimentary deposits is now known to be the former bottom of a freshwater lake. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Some exciting new results from the Curiosity rover mission on Mars were announced yesterday at this year’s American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. Basically, as previously suspected, Curiosity landed in an ancient lakebed inside Gale crater, and those habitable conditions apparently lasted for a longer time than previously thought.

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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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Will Curiosity find new clues to ancient Martian habitability, or perhaps even life, at Hematite Ridge?

Hematite ridge, as seen from near Curiosity's landing site, a few kilometres away. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / annotated by A. Fraeman
Hematite Ridge, as seen from near Curiosity’s landing site, a few kilometres away. Click on image for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / annotated by A. Fraeman

As the Curiosity rover gets ever closer to its major destination of Mount Sharp, there is an interesting feature there which has become a priority target, one which may help scientists to further study the past habitability of this area, or even provide possible clues to life itself.

Read MoreWill Curiosity find new clues to ancient Martian habitability, or perhaps even life, at Hematite Ridge?