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The planets of Kepler-37 compared to the Solar System's inner worlds (Image: NASA/Ames/JPL...

NASA’s Kepler space probe has discovered the smallest planet yet orbiting a Sun-like star. Dubbed Kepler-37b, the exoplanet orbits the star Kepler-37 about 210 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lyra. It’s only one-third the size of Earth and smaller than Mercury, which makes it not only the smallest planet yet found outside the Solar System, but the smallest planet ever discovered.  Read More

Comparative sizes of Earth and a 'super-Earth' (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (SSC))

In the past couple of decades, nearly 900 planets have been identified outside of our Solar System with thousands more candidates to be considered. Among the most exciting of these exoplanets are the so-called “super-Earths” – planets somewhat larger than the Earth, yet some of which might be capable of supporting life. Unfortunately, a team led by Helmut Lammer at the Space Research Institute (IWF) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences has produced new models that indicate some of these super-Earths may really be mini-Neptunes, with deep, hydrogen-rich envelopes covering a small rocky core.  Read More

Habitable zone distances around various types of stars (Image: Chester Herman)

Researchers at Penn state have developed a new method for calculating the habitable zone around stars. The computer model based on new greenhouse gas databases provides a tool to better estimate which exoplanets with sufficient atmospheric pressure might be able to maintain liquid water on their surface. The new model indicates that some of the nearly 300 possible Earth-like planets previously identified might be too close to their stars to to be habitable.  Read More

A recent analysis of the data gathered from the Kepler telescope has revealed that Earth-s...

The latest analysis of data coming from NASA's Kepler telescope has revealed that nearly all the Sun-like stars in our galaxy appear to have planets orbiting them, and that at least 17 percent of them – about one in six – are hosting a planet the size of our own in close orbit. Because the Milky Way is estimated to contain some 100 billion stars, this means that our galaxy alone could have at least 17 billion Earth-sized planets, some of which may harbor the conditions for life.  Read More

Artist's conception of the five-planet Tau Ceti system (Photo: J. Pinfield/RoPACS/Universi...

Our stellar neighborhood is becoming crowded courtesy of some newly discovered real estate. Astronomers have uncovered evidence buried in the noise of apparently empty data showing that five super-Earths are orbiting the nearby Tau Ceti – a star chosen as one of the targets in the pioneering 1960 Project OZMA search for extraterrestrial life because of its strong similarity to the Sun. Better yet, the two outermost of Tau Ceti's planets appear to be in the star's habitable zone, making them the closest known potentially habitable exoplanets.  Read More

Artist's impression of Kepler-47, the first confirmed binary system with multiple planets ...

It's been more than three and a half years since the Kepler Space Telescope began its mission as humanity's watcher for Earth-like planets outside of the Solar System. In that time, Kepler has done exactly what was asked of it: provide the data to help identify more than 2,300 exoplanet candidates in other star systems. And so NASA has announced the "successful completion" of Kepler's prime mission. There's one nagging detail, though: we are yet to find a truly Earth-like planet. It's time to alter the parameters of the search.  Read More

Artist's concept of the HD 40307 planetary system featuring a close-up view of HD 40307g, ...

Due to the masterful efforts of an international team of astronomers, a new super-Earth planet has been discovered within the habitable zone of a star just 42 light years from Earth. Part of a six planetary system, the super-Earth known as HD 40307g has several promising attributes in terms of its ability to support life and because of its relative proximity, it may soon be possible to observe the planet optically.  Read More

CHEOPS, the first of ESA's S-class missions, will study super-Earths

The European Space Agency (ESA) is set to give existing orbiting probes, such as COROT and Kepler, a helping hand in studying super-Earths. Selected from 26 proposals, the CHEOPS (CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite) spacecraft is the first S-class (“small”) mission in the ESA’s Science Programme. A partnership between the ESA and the Swiss Space Office, CHEOPS will not seek out new exoplanets, but will instead target nearby, bright stars that are already known to have orbiting planets.  Read More

Artist's impression from a point in the Alpha Centauri triple star system, showing the new...

European astronomers working from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile have discovered a planet slightly more massive than Earth, orbiting a star in the Alpha Centauri triple star system – the nearest stellar system to our planet. Alpha Centauri Bb (as the new exoplanet is called, the star being Alpha Centauri B) is the first Earth-sized body found orbiting a Sun-like star and was discovered by measuring the tiny wobbles of Alpha Centauri B as it moves in response to the gravitational pull of the orbiting planet. It is orbiting Alpha Centauri B every three days and six hours at an orbital radius of six million kilometers (3.7 million miles). The proximity to the star leads to a surface temperature of some 1,500º K (2,250º F/1,232º C) – hot enough to melt granite.  Read More

Scientists destroy simulated Earths to better understand exoplanets, such as Earth-like pl...

Unlike in old B movies, real scientists don’t scream “Fools! I’ll destroy them all!” before throwing the switch on their doomsday device. At least, most of the them don’t. However, the August 10 issue of the Astrophysical Journal reports that a team of scientists are working on destroying the world - not once, but repeatedly. Fortunately, the world they’re destroying exists only in a computer simulation and its destruction is in the service of learning more about planets revolving around other stars.  Read More

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