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Artist's conception showing the inner four planets of the Gliese 581 system and their host...

If you’re looking to get away from it all then Gliese 581g might just fit the bill. But be prepared to pack enough for the trip that, even on a rocket traveling 30,000 km per second (18,640 miles per second), would take 200 years. Gliese 581g is the first exoplanet discovered that sits in an area where water could exist on the planet’s surface. If confirmed, this would make it the most Earth-like exoplanet yet discovered and the first strong case for a “potentially habitable” one.  Read More

An artist's rendition of the Kepler spacecraft (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Launched on March 6, 2009, the Kepler spacecraft is continuing to scan the heavens for Earth-like exoplanets. The $US591 million Kepler boasts the largest camera ever sent into space, incorporating a 0.95-meter diameter Schmidt telescope with an array of 42 CCDs, each with 2200x1024 pixels. NASA has recently released 43 days-worth of data covering more than 156,000 stars in the Cygnus-Lyra region of our galaxy, but more analysis is needed before any conclusive findings can be made.  Read More

An artist's impression of a Jupiter-sized planet transiting in front of its parent star (I...

The last time we did a story on extrasolar planets (or exoplanets) in October, 2009, there had been 374 planets outside our solar system discovered. As of June 28, 2010 that number had risen to 464. The numbers look set to get a further boost thanks to a new technique that allows planets even down to the mass of the Earth to be detected with relatively small diameter telescopes. For the first time, using the technique known as Transit Timing Variation (TTV), a team of astronomers from Germany, Bulgaria and Poland have discovered an exotic extrasolar planet with 15 times the mass of Earth in the system WASP-3, 700 light years from the Sun in the constellation of Lyra.  Read More

The new discovery, named GJ1214b, measures up at about 6.5 times the size of our Earth wit...

Astronomers have proved that even the most basic technology can reveal significant developments in the heavens above. Using a simple ground-based telescope, a team from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) located a “super-Earth” orbiting a red dwarf star only 40 light-years away from Earth.  Read More

An artist's impression of the exoplanet COROT-7b. Theoretical models suggest it may have l...

Raining rocks? The concept may not be as preposterous as it sounds according to scientists at Washington University in St Louis who have theorized that a recently-discovered exoplanet, COROT-7b, may have an atmosphere that does exactly that.  Read More

Artist's impression of Kepler Spacecraft

On March 5, NASA will launch the largest camera ever sent into space in an attempt to find the holy grail of astronomy: an Earth-like planet. The $591 million Kepler craft will orbit the sun for at least 3.5 years, using an unprecedented 0.95-meter diameter Schmidt telescope packing an array of 42 CCDs, each with 2200x1024 pixels, to scan over 100,000 stars in the Cygnus-Lyra region of the galaxy. The craft is seeking planets in the “goldilocks” zone – not too close to the sun, and not too far – but the scope of the project means that no matter what scientists find, our understanding of the universe will be greatly enhanced.  Read More

Visible-light image from the Hubble showing the newly discovered planet, Fomalhaut b

In two separate scientific show-stoppers, unprecedented direct images of planets outside of our own solar system have been captured by NASA's Hubble space telescope and terrestrial observatories in Hawaii. Over the past two decades astronomers have detected around 300 exoplanets and are rapidly finding more, but these have mostly been observed by methods such as monitoring the gravitational effects of a planet on its parent star rather than seen as a direct optical image. We now have the first visible-light snapshot of a planet circling another star from the Hubble, and the first-ever direct images of an exoplanetary system from the massive 8-meter Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea.  Read More

Artist's impression of the newly detected planets 
 Photo courtesy KASI, CBNU, and ARCSEC

February 20, 2008 With upwards of 100 billion stars in our own Milky Way and at least that number of galaxies in the observable universe, the odds have long pointed to the likely existence of planets beyond our own solar system. The first discovery of such an extra-solar planet to receive subsequent confirmation took place in 1988 and two decades later, as detection techniques and equipment continue to improve, that number is now approaching 300. Now news that Astronomers from the University of St Andrews have found a new planetary system some 5,000 light years away that bears "striking similarities" to our Solar system.  Read More

Astronomers find first habitable Earth-like planet

April 26, 2007 Astronomers have discovered the most Earth-like planet outside our Solar System to date, an exoplanet with a radius only 50% larger than the Earth and capable of having liquid water. Using the ESO 3.6-m telescope, a team of Swiss, French and Portuguese scientists discovered a super-Earth about 5 times the mass of the Earth that orbits a red dwarf, already known to harbour a Neptune-mass planet. The astronomers have also strong evidence for the presence of a third planet with a mass about 8 Earth masses. This exoplanet - as astronomers call planets around a star other than the Sun – is the smallest ever found up to now and it completes a full orbit in 13 days. It is 14 times closer to its star than the Earth is from the Sun. However, given that its host star, the red dwarf Gliese 581, is smaller and colder than the Sun – and thus less luminous – the planet nevertheless lies in the habitable zone, the region around a star where water could be liquid!  Read More

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