Another planet in our neighborhood

Astronomers have discovered a potentially rocky planet around a red dwarf star just 11 light-years away.

I spent countless nights as a child gazing up at the night sky and wondering what was out there. Did those stars harbor planets, and if so, were those planets anything like our Earth? Could there be other stargazers, looking up at an alien sky?

This artist’s impression shows the temperate planet Ross 128 b, with its red dwarf parent star in the background. ESO / M. Kornmesse

 

The exoplanet field, which has exploded in the last 20 years, is beginning to answer these questions. With thousands of planets identified around other stars, the field has moved beyond discovery to statistical understanding. We now know that small rocky planets like our Earth are common and that the most common type of star (M dwarfs) is one of the most likely hosts for planets. These statistics are evident in the recent discovery of Proxima b, a planet orbiting our closest stellar neighbor, but that’s not the only planet around a nearby star.

Read more at Sky & Telescope

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The First Exomoon?

Astronomers have found one of the best exomoon candidates based on data collected by the Kepler spacecraft. Now they just need the Hubble observations to check if it exists.

Saturn's Moons

This image from the Cassini spacecraft shows four of Saturn’s moons and the outskirts of the planet’s rings. Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is in the background. In front of it and above the rings at center is Dione, one of the mid-size moons. The small moon Pandora orbits beyond the rings on the right of the image. Finally, Pan peeks out as a spot in the Encke Gap of the A ring on the left of the image. Credit:NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute

Astronomers have found thousands of exoplanets orbiting their host stars. Yet, despite thousands of observations, one type of detection has proven elusive: the signal of an exomoon.

Check out my article at Sky & Telescope detailing the latest news from the Cool Worlds Lab at Columbia University.

Brown Dwarfs and their Big Siblings

My latest article is up at Sky & Telescope.  I discuss two recent studies suggest that brown dwarfs, or so-called “failed stars,” are nevertheless more like stars than planets.

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Artist Conception of a Brown Dwarf Atmosphere / NASA JPL

Brown dwarfs are the exceedingly common runts of the stellar litter. But even though they’re everywhere, their faint glow makes them difficult to observe and understand. Two recent studies shed light on the formation of these once-exotic objects.

First proposed as an idea in the 1960s and finally discovered in the 1990s, brown dwarfs bridge the gap between the smallest stars and the largest planets, never igniting hydrogen fusion in their cores. They cool off over time, slowly shedding the nascent heat leftover from their formation as a dim glow.

Read more here!

A feeble giant appears

So much of our night sky has yet to be mapped by large, deep surveys.  A recent paper highlights the importance of ongoing work, as astronomers have just iddes-dwarf-galaxy-candidates-480px-300x171entified a new companion galaxy to our Milky Way.  Named “Crater 2” this galaxy is the fourth largest discovered around our Galaxy, and is quite distant, nearly 400,000 light years away.  You can read more about Crater 2 and my take on it over at Sky and Telescope.

Brown Dwarfs: More like stars than planets

From my latest at Sky & Telescope:

Recent radio observations support the idea that brown dwarfs form like full-fledged stars do.

Brown dwarfs, which bridge the gap between stars and planets, have been an exciting target for astronomers since their discovery in the mid-1990s. Since that time, we’ve observed and classified hundreds of these objects, but the details of how they form still remain an active area of research. The answer to a simple question, “Do brown dwarfs form in a method similar to stars, or do they form more like planets?” has eluded astronomers for decades.

– See more at: Sky & Telescope

Bringing the Moon to Rider

One of the wonderful programs run by NASA is the Lunar and Meteorite Disk Program, which allows educators the opportunity to borrow samples of moon rocks collected by Apollo astronauts, along with some meteorites recovered all over the globe.  I used the moon rocks as part of my introductory Astronomy class here at Rider, and gave my students a chance to examine pieces of other worlds.  Adam Grybowski put together a nice article for the News@Rider detailing our class.