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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Astronomy in the Era of Large Surveys

I got the chance to speak at Google over the winter break as part of the Talks at Google series.  If you are interested in hearing the talk, its now on YouTube (and embedded below).  The entire trip to Mountain View was a great time, and the audience for my talk was engaging and had great questions.  Astronomy is entering an exciting era, where surveys such as Gaia and LSST will provide the precise data needed to answer some of our biggest questions,  including characterizing dark energy and producing exquisite maps of the Milky Way.  Moreover, all of the data will be public, meaning anyone with an internet connection can get their hands on cutting edge data.  The opportunities for citizen science will be outstanding.  Hope you enjoy the talk!