First exomoon found? Astronomers optimistic but urge caution

Artist’s conception of a large Earth-like exomoon orbiting a giant gaseous exoplanet. Image Credit: Avatar/20th Century Fox

Exoplanets are being found so frequently now that they have become commonplace. But what about exomoons? As might be expected, they are much harder to detect, being typically much smaller than most planets. There have been tantalizing hints but nothing conclusive so far. That may be about to change soon, however. Astronomers from Columbia University have reported the possible discovery of the first exomoon – but they stress that it is still unconfirmed and just a candidate at this point.

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James Webb Space Telescope arrives at Johnson Space Center for cryogenic testing

The giant 18-piece mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope, inside the cleanroom at Johnson Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

Often referred to as the successor for Hubble, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is one of the most highly anticipated space telescopes ever built. A large infrared telescope with a 6.5-metre primary mirror, JWST will be able to look at every phase of the Universe, from the period just after the Big Bang to the formation of stars, galaxies, exoplanets and even our own Solar System. Scheduled for launch in fall 2018, JWST recently arrived at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where it will undergo its last, and crucial, cryogenic test.

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Nearby ‘super-Earth’ exoplanet may be best place yet to search for alien life

Artist’s conception of the exoplanet LHS 1140b. Image Credit: ESO

Just recently, an exo-planetary system called TRAPPIST-1, with seven known planets close in size to Earth, was announced by astronomers. Some of those planets are in the star’s habitable zone, meaning that they could potentially be habitable for some kind of life. Then, another Earth-sized world was found orbiting the star GJ 1132b, and may have water and methane in its atmosphere. Now, another similar planet has been found orbiting another nearby star. It is also close in size to Earth and resides in the star’s habitable zone. According to scientists, it is another prime candidate in the search for alien life and may even be the best one yet.

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Water worlds? Updated masses for TRAPPIST-1 planets

Artist’s conception of some of the planets in the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system. Image Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser/N. Risinger (skysurvey.org)

There is an interesting new paper out about the seven near-Earth-sized exoplanets orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1. According to the study, four of the planets may be true water worlds, although just what form those may take isn’t clear. All seven planets are close in size to the Earth, with some of them in the star’s habitable zone, where temperatures could allow liquid water on rocky surfaces.

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Atmosphere detected on nearby ‘super-Earth’ exoplanet

Artist’s conception of the super-Earth exoplanet GJ 1132b. Image Credit: MPIA

For the first time, astronomers have detected an atmosphere surrounding a “super-Earth” exoplanet which is close in size to Earth, another key step towards finding a world similar in size to ours that is also habitable. It’s not Earth 2.0 just yet, but it’s another indication that we are getting closer to finding a world that reminds us of home.

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