Nevermind the #trappist planets, what about the star?

The astronomy sphere exploded a few week back with the revelation of 7 rocky planets around Trappist-1, 3 of which were in the habitable zone. Best part – the star is only 40 light years away

But best to be careful before expending any energy trying to get there.

New research

show that the star is emits a lot Xrays, suggesting it is very young and will blow any atmosphere off any nearby planets within 5 billion years. So not such a great long term survival plan for humanity when our Sun destroys the Earth (also in about 5 billion years).  Keep on looking, but remember to  look at the star, not just the planets.


You can watch the announcement here.
NASA announcement of 7 Earth-like planets

A few weeks after NASA’s big announcement that we have discovered seven Earth-mass planets. As these are only 40 light years away from us, we could conceivably communicate (albeit with a 40-year delivery service). While we’re waiting, lets name them.


People are so excited, in fact, that they’re not satisfied with sticking to their scientific names, which run the standard TRAPPIST-1b to TRAPPIST-1h. Naturally, that won’t cut it for the creative types of Twitter—or for NASA, which tweeted out the naming challenge on Friday. The hashtag #7namesfor7newplanets is quickly accumulating quite a collection of suggestions for these alternate homelands, from the Greek versions of our own solar system’s Roman planetary nomenclature to referencing Star Wars, Snow White’s dwarves, popular characters in TV and literature, and more.

You can tweet your names to NASA using the hashtag #7namesfor7newplanets

Comment on this story by leaving your 7namesfor7newplanets below.

The search for planets with oxygen #HabitableZone #exoplanets

The search for life around other stars is essentially a search for a habitable zone – the area around a star where the distance is warm enough to sustain liquid water on the surface, but cold enough such that the water does not boil away or escape.

This definition of habitable zone now has to change to take into account the star itself. New research shows that winds coming off Red Giant stars can strip the planet of Oxygen. No Oxygen, no life. This means that our nearest confirmed Earth-sized exoplanet, around Proxima Centauri and only 4 light-years away, is not a good spot to go look for neighbors.

“If we want to find an exoplanet that can develop and sustain life, we must figure out which stars make the best parents,” said Vladimir Airapetian, lead author of the paper and a solar scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “We’re coming closer to understanding what kind of parent stars we need.”










How to visit the neighbors #starshot #Proxima Centauri

If you live in the southern hemisphere, go out tonight and shine your laser pointer at Alpha Centauri. 256px-Constellation_Centaurus4 Years from now your laser’s light will arrive at the star – but will anyone be there to see it?

Communicating with our nearest neighbors, see

Seeing me, seeing you #42Earths #3000Planets

We now have over 3000 planets identified in our galaxy, 42 of which are probably Earth-like.

Looking at these points in the sky, anyone looking back?


Caught, red handed #protoplanets @profmcateer

Now we knew that planets had to have a formation period. We’ve even seen some titillating hints of planets forming around the time of planet formation. But now we’ve caught them in the act. For the first time, researchers have photographed the birth of a distant planet. Of course planets take several millions years to form, so we can only ever capture stills, but we can use a simulation in this video.

We know of about 2,000 exoplanets, but we’ve only imaged about a dozen, and all of them well beyond their baby phase.  This new data, published in the journal Nature this week, provides our first real peek  at the birth phase. The LkCa15 system was observed using Arizona’s Large Binocular Telescope, the world’s largest telescope, and the University of Arizona’s Magellan Telescope, found in Chile. The Magellan Telescope has a special adaptive optics system that was able to pick up the planet’s “hydrogen alpha” light — a specific red wavelength of light that stars and planets emit as they grow. These cosmic objects get really hot when they form, causing their hydrogen components to glow this deep red that can be observed from Earth.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 4.09.28 PM

This embryonic exoplanet orbits a young star called LkCa15, only about 450 light years from Earth. Surrounding LkCa15 is a huge, protoplanetary disk — a rotating saucer of dense gas that typically encompasses young stars. Within these disks planets form when some of the materials coalesce into larger objects. This creates gaps in the dust cloud where the new planets then reside. The protoplanetary disk around LkCa15 is unique – it contains an exceptionally large gap.

“It’s like a big doughnut,” said study author Kate Follette. “This system is special because it’s one of a handful of disks that has a solar-system size gap in it. And one of the ways to create that gap is to have planets forming in there.” She was able to separate the hydrogen alpha light coming from the star, to get the image of the emerging exoplanet. But, as always we couldn’t see everything — and they think there may be still more planets forming while we watch.



And then there were 8 #HallofFame #kepler

The Kepler mission continues to explore and discover, and among the most recent discoveries lie a potential Earth twin.

As discussed on

“Kepler has identified many exoplanets but few are within their star’s Goldilocks zone. Among eight new planets they have spied in distant solar systems, astronomers say one in particular has usurped the title of most Earth-like alien world. All eight were picked out by Nasa’s Kepler space telescope, taking its tally of such exoplanets past 1,000.But only three sit safely within the “habitable zone” of their host star – and one in particular is rocky, like Earth, as well as only slightly warmer.

The find was revealed at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.
The three potentially habitable planets join Kepler’s “hall of fame”, which now boasts eight fascinating planetary prospects. And researchers say the most Earth-like of the new arrivals, known as Kepler 438b, is probably even more similar to our home than Kepler 186f – which previously looked to be our most likely twin. At 12% larger than Earth, the new claimant is bigger than 186f but it is closer to our temperature, probably receiving just 40% more heat from its sun than we do from ours. So if we could stand on the surface of 438b it may well be warmer than here, according to Dr Doug Caldwell from the Seti (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute in California.”

Caught in the act – forming planets, #HLTau, #PlanetForming #ALMA

This image looks so bright, so clear, and so pretty that you would be forgiven for assuming that is a computer-generated model. But this is actual real data taken by an array of radio telescopes, called ALMA, in Chile. In this image, we’ve captured planetary formation in action. In the center is the star HL Tau – less than a million years old but in many ways just like our Sun – surrounded by concentric circles of dust and gas. The clear gaps in this glowing disk are where planets are forming. As the planet forms it collects up all the material in it orbits and hence clears away the debris.

As discussed on the National Geographic article –

”  “When we first saw this image we were astounded at the spectacular level of detail,” said ALMA deputy program scientist Catherine Vlahakis. “HL Tauri is no more than a million years old, yet already its disc appears to be full of forming planets.”

Tim de Zeeuw, director general of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) added that such a high resolution image would help us understand also the formation of Earth more than four billion years ago.

“Most of what we know about planet formation today is based on theory,” said de Zeeuw in a press release. “Images with this level of detail have up to now been relegated to computer simulations or artist’s impressions.”

Fantastic new light shed onto an old subject.

Earth is not the perfect planet #amacrojot #superearths

The search for a life is the ultimate quest. The search for life is the search for a life bearing planet, which means it is the search for a planet like our own, the Earth. So we’ve focused on the essentials, looking for small rocky planets, with a mixture of atmospheric gases, with a nice atmospheric pressure so we can support liquid water, at the Goldilocks zone of the perfect temperature. But this search had assumed that Earth is the perfect life- bearing planet. New research might just flip this reasoning on its head.

From NPR,

So-called superhabitable worlds wouldn’t necessarily look like Earth but would nonetheless have conditions that are more suitable for life to emerge and evolve, according to the study published this month in the journal Astrobiology.

“In my point of view, astronomers and biologists are biased,” says Rene Heller, an astrophysicist at Canada’s McMaster University who is the study’s lead author. “These scientists look for planets that are Earth-like.”

But it’s possible that Earth is actually only marginally habitable by the standards of the universe, says Heller, who points out that our home may not represent a typical habitable world.

He and co-author John Armstrong of Weber State University in Utah have come up with a long list of traits that might make a planet “superhabitable.”

Such planets would most likely be older than Earth and two to three times bigger, the researchers say. And they would orbit stars that are somewhat less massive than our sun.

Any liquid water wouldn’t be in a giant, deep ocean, but would be scattered over the surface of the planets in shallow reservoirs. The planets would need a global magnetic field to serve as protection from cosmic radiation, and they would probably have thicker atmospheres than the Earth does.

“It’s good to start thinking now about how do we sort of rank these planets in terms of their potential to host life,” agrees Rory Barnes of the University of Washington, who uses computer models to explore the habitability of planets outside our solar system. “I think this paper does a really good job of examining the different kinds of features that all come into play when making a habitable planet.”

So far, scientists have detected about a thousand planets orbiting other stars. Current technology usually can’t reveal much about them — just a planet’s size, density and how far it orbits from its host star.

Nature’s surprise


It used to be simple. We had 9 planets. 4 were small and rocky and close to the Sun. 4 were big and gassy and far from the Sun. The we had Pluto. The first disruption of this pretty picture was when we found of other bodies like a Pluto and so decided Pluto could not be a planet. Then we found other planetary systems in which the large planets were close to the star. Now the latest discovery might mean a complete rethink of our whole notion of planets. Now we have discovered a planet the same size as Earth, but gassy and not rocky.

Earth’s gassy ‘twin’ has been discovered in another solar system 200 light years away and is known as KOI-314c. It weighs the same as Earth but is 60% larger, leading scientists to suspect it has a thick gaseous atmosphere. It orbits a dim red dwarf star at such a close distance that temperatures on its surface could be as high as 104C – too hot for most forms of life on Earth.

Lead astronomer Dr David Kipping, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in the US, said: “This planet might have the same mass as Earth, but it is certainly not Earth-like. It proves that there is no clear dividing line between rocky worlds like Earth and fluffier planets like water worlds or gas giants.”

They’re also showcasing yet again that a major assumption astronomers were making as recently as 1995—that other solar systems would more or less resemble ours—was completely misguided. “Nature,” says Kipping, “continues to surprise us.” By now, that should hardly be a surprise.