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NASA Puts Kepler Back On the Hunt For Distant Worlds

On the hunt for alien worlds, NASA has approved a new mission for the Kepler spacecraft, despite a crippling breakdown in 2013 that seemed to mark the end of its work forever. (See: “New Role for Disabled Kepler?”) Launched in 2009, the original $600 million Kepler mission discovered more than half of all known planets orbiting nearby…

Where are the Aliens? Interview With a SETI Researcher

Yesterday the internet was abuzz with talk about UFOs and the Roswell incident, which took place 66 years ago this week. Discovering life beyond Earth has always been considered by some to be the holy grail of science. However, no little green men or even measly microbes have been conclusively found. But this hasn’t dampened…

Planet Debris Pollute Dead Stars

  A pair of dead stars sitting in a star cluster about 150 light years from Earth appear to have their atmospheres polluted with debris from asteroids . Astronomers say this suggests that the basic ingredients for making Earth-like planets could be quite  common in stellar nurseries across the cosmos. “We have identified chemical evidence…

Surprisingly Close Star System Discovered

Looks like astronomers may have new hunting grounds to search for exoplanets , and it’s  close–  in fact it’s just in our local interstellar neighborhood.  A new-found star system at only 6.5 light years away now ranks as the third nearest to our solar system and the closest to be discovered since 1917. The new…

Astronomy 2012: Watch a Planet Transit With Your Own Eyes!

If you’ve been following the exploits of NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, you probably already know that the mission finds new planets using what’s called the transit method. In short, Kepler stares at a bunch of stars and records when there’s a periodic dip in a star’s light caused by an object passing in front. With enough…

Carnival of Space #170

Welcome, ladies and gents, to this week’s Carnival of Space, the 170th performance of a spectacular show filled with thrills, chills, and amazements! —Image by Victoria Jaggard This is my debut as host of the Carnival here at Breaking Orbit, but I’m no First of May when it comes to showcasing the wonders the cosmos…

We’ll Find Earth’s Twin by May 2011, Experts Predict

Think of it as Moore’s Law for exoplanets. Two astronomers have used the current rate of discovery for planets outside our solar system to calculate when we’re going to find a habitable planet akin to Earth. Their answer: mid-2011. But just like 42, the true meaning of the answer depends a lot on the nature…

Eccstatic Over Exoplanets

The conversation in the latest xkcd seems eerily familiar to me: [click here to get the punchline] At least I can guess with some degree of accuracy what type of news feeds the artist must be reading … Exhibit A and Exhibit B, both widely covered by the scientific press, from just last week.

Unicorns, Roses, and Star “Bells”–Oh, My!

It sounds like the start of a fairy tale: There’s a unicorn in outer space that holds a rose and a star that rings like a bell. What I’m actually talking about is the constellation Monoceros, the Unicorn, a grouping of relatively faint stars huddled between Orion, Gemini, and Canis Major. In addition to the…

Newfound Alien Star System Boasts 5, Maybe 7, Planets

About 127 light-years away there’s a star like our sun that hosts at least five planets, each roughly the same mass as Uranus or Neptune, astronomers announced today. A closeup of the sky around HD 10180 —Image courtesy ESO and Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgment: Davide De Martin The planets were found via what’s called…

“Sex c” New Planet Discovered

OK. If this headline makes you cringe rather than snicker, just stop reading this post right now. Good? Great. On to the news. An artist’s impression of a Jupiter-like exoplanet. —Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech Late last month astronomers at the California Institute of Technology announced the discovery of four new extrasolar planets, two each around the…

Definition of a [Habitable] Planet?

Ever since Pluto got voted off the island, most astronomers have defined a planet as a body orbiting a star—dead or alive—that is a) massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity, b) not massive enough to ignite itself into starhood, and c) domineering enough to have swept its neighborhood clean of smaller planetary…

Lunar Eclipse Gives Alien’s-Eye View of Earth

Of the more than 300 planets circling other stars we’ve found so far, only a handful have ever had their pictures taken directly. Astronomers strongly suspect the vast majority of these so-called exoplanets exist based solely on indirect evidence, such as their gravitational effects on stars. So the trick, then, is figuring out anything else…

Searching For Other Earths? Send a Flower Into Space

Imagine trying to spot a moth flying around the rim of a searchlight. If the light is a few feet from you, there’s a chance you would catch the occasional flicker of motion, but the moth would be largely hidden by the glare. Now imagine the spotlight shines as bright as the sun and is…

Does This Planet Look Habitable to You?

Sometimes it’s possible to be too close to a problem. For example, how would a citizen of Whoville living on a speck of dust know what another speck of dust several light-years away is supposed to look like? The situation is much the same on Earth. Earth, as seen from Mars in 2004 —Image courtesy…