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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…

Newly Discovered Planet Wobbles as It Spins

A newly discovered planet wobbles as it spins, astronomers say, though it’s in no danger of falling down. The planet, dubbed Kepler-413b, wobbles as it spins around on its north-south axis circling its stars. The wobbles have altered the planet’s tilt by as much as 30 degrees (the angle between the 12 o’clock and the 1…

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…

Will *You* Spot the First Truly Earthlike Planet?

UPDATE: In Wednesday’s press conference, the Kepler team announced the new public data includes readings on several hundred new planetary candidates. The findings increase the number of planet candidates Kepler’s found to 1,235. Of these, 68 are roughly Earth-size, 288 are super Earth-size, 662 are Neptune-size, 165 are Jupiter-size, and 19 are larger than Jupiter.…

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.

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…

Johannes Kepler: One of Newton’s Giants?

First, allow me to extend a warm welcome to the 3,500+ astronomers, astronomy buffs, writers, friends, and family now in Washington, D.C., for the 215th meeting of the American Astronomical Society. Welcome to my home town, and thanks for bringing the meeting to me for a change! —Image courtesy NASA Day One of the conference…

Chandra Marks 10th Birthday With Space Puffball

Shortly after the Chandra X-ray Observatory opened its eye for the first time in 1999, the orbiting probe snapped its first picture of a supernova remnant about 190,000 light-years away that’s lovingly called 1E 0102.2-7219—or E0102 for short. —Image courtesy NASA/CXC/SAO Yesterday, ten years to the day after the probe’s July 23 launch, the Chandra…

Galileo’s Telescope Helps Kick Off 100 Hours of Astronomy

If you [heart] space, you probably know by now that this Thursday, April 2, marks the start of 100 Hours of Astronomy. The event will feature live Web casts, sidewalk astronomy, a literal “Sun Day” for solar science, and scads of other public outreach activities around the world. Kicking off the whole shebang is the…

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…