564 planets found to far

Chris

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More than 50 new alien planets — including one so-called super-Earth that could potentially support life — have been discovered by an exoplanet-hunting telescope from the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

The newfound haul of alien planets includes 16 super-Earths, which are potentially rocky worlds that are more massive than our planet. One in particular - called HD 85512 b - has captured astronomers' attention because it orbits at the edge of its star's habitable zone, suggesting conditions could be ripe to support life.

Astronomers have previously discovered 564 confirmed alien planets, with roughly 1,200 additional candidate worlds under investigation based on data from the Kepler space observatory, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

'Super-Earth,' 1 Of 50 Newfound Alien Planets, Could Potentially Support Life | Fox News
 

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Scientists discover huge exoplanet...
:eusa_clap:
'Godzilla of Earths' Exoplanet Discovered
June 02, 2014 ~ Scientists have discovered an exoplanet they’re dubbing a “mega-Earth.”
Kepler-10c is a rocky world weighing as much as 17 Earths, according to researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "This is the Godzilla of Earths!" said CfA researcher Dimitar Sasselov, director of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative in a statement. "But unlike the movie monster, Kepler-10c has positive implications for life." What makes Kepler-10c so unusual is that scientists thought any planet that big would “grab hydrogen gas as it grew and become a Jupiter-like gas giant.” Kepler-10c has a diameter of about 18,000 miles, 2.3 times as large as Earth, researchers said. The massive world is 560 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Draco. It circles its star every 45 days.

Kepler-10c was spotted indirectly by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft using the transit method, which measures the amount a star dims when a planet passes it. While they were able to calculate the size of the planet, scientists were not able to determine if it was rocky or gassy. Using the HARPS-North instrument on the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo in the Canary Islands to measure the mass of Kepler-10c, scientists realized it weighed 17 times as much as Earth, meaning it must not be a gassy world. "Kepler-10c didn't lose its atmosphere over time. It's massive enough to have held onto one if it ever had it," said Xavier Dumusque of the Cfa, who led the data analysis and made the discovery. "It must have formed the way we see it now."


The newly discovered "mega-Earth" Kepler-10c dominates the foreground in this artist's conception.

The Kepler-10 system is 11 billion years old, according to researchers, meaning it was formed less than 3 billion years after the creation of the universe. Since the early universe only contained hydrogen and helium, the heavier materials needed to form planets had to have been created in the earliest stars. When those stars died and exploded, “they scattered these crucial ingredients through space, which then could be incorporated into later generations of stars and planets.”

That process, researchers said, “should have taken billions of years, but Kepler-10c shows rocky planets were able to form despite the scarcity of heavy elements. "Finding Kepler-10c tells us that rocky planets could form much earlier than we thought. And if you can make rocks, you can make life," says Sasselov. That such an old star system has an Earth-like planet means researchers can also look for potentially habitable planets in those systems as well. The team's finding was presented today in a press conference at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS).

'Godzilla of Earths' Exoplanet Discovered
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Study: Sun Plays Role in Lightning Strikes
June 2nd, 2014 ~ Lightning is one of nature’s most spectacular and mysterious phenomena, yet there is much scientists still don’t know about it.
British researchers have found evidence that high-energy particles, which are blown toward Earth on the solar wind, play a role in triggering lightning on Earth. These energized solar particles can travel from the sun at a rate as high as 800 kilometers per second, according to NASA. The scientists from the University of Reading’s Department of Meteorology discovered a large and significant increase in lightning strikes across Europe for up to 40 days after solar winds struck our atmosphere. The British study comes on the heels of a report released about a year ago by Russian researchers who found evidence that cosmic rays ‒ high-energy radiation generated by exploding stars deep in the universe that travel through the cosmos at the speed of light ‒ play a role in initiating lightning strikes.



Of course, the atmospheric conditions needed to produce lightning must first be present before it can be triggered either by cosmic rays, solar particles, or other phenomena, says the new study’s lead author, Chris Scott from the University of Reading. While the specific mechanism behind the causes of lightning still remains a mystery, study scientists think the air’s electrical properties change when the charged solar particles hit the atmosphere. The team’s research found the sun can generate particles that ‒ while not as energetic as cosmic rays ‒ are nonetheless able to penetrate our atmosphere, helping to enhance and speed the lightning process. Solar wind is the continuous expulsion of material from the sun into space. “It’s a bit like steam rising from a sauce-pan,” Scott said. “It’s the most energetic particles in the solar atmosphere that are able to escape and move out into space.”


Lightning flashes across the night sky.

He also suggested that if you think of the sun as a “leaky football,” it has various different jets that produce fast and relatively slower solar winds that can cause gusts and concentrations within the solar wind, all of which can intensity the sun’s magnetic field in space. This concentration of the sun’s magnetic field also shields Earth from cosmic rays because they’re deflected by that magnetic field, which also accelerates the solar particles ahead of it in much the same way as a “surfer is accelerated by the wave he’s riding,” said Scott. The research team noticed an increase in lightning when the streams of accelerated solar particles blew toward our planet. They were able to make their findings after examining and analyzing lightning strike data from 2000 to 2005 recorded by the Met Office – the UK’s weather service – and its lightning detection system. They focused on lightning strikes that took place within a 500-kilometer radius in central England.


Computer-generated image of the constant flow of solar wind streaming outward from the sun, added to an actual image of the sun’s chromosphere.

They compared that with data provided by NASA’S Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) spacecraft, which has studied and measured the high energy particles contained within the solar wind since August 1997. Scott and his team found that, for 40 days prior to the arrival of a solar wind at Earth, there was an average of 321 lightning strikes across the UK. But for the 40-day period after the arrival of the solar wind, that number increased to about 422. Their studies also revealed that the number of lightning strikes peaked between 12 and 18 days after the solar wind’s arrival. The findings made by the researchers are outlined in a study published by the Institute of Physics journal Environmental Research Letters.

http://blogs.voanews.com/science-world/2014/06/02/study-sun-plays-role-in-lightning-strikes/
 
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Uncle Ferd believes in lil' green men - he's seen `em...

NASA telescope finds 10 more planets that could have life
Jun 19, 2017, WASHINGTON — NASA's planet-hunting telescope has found 10 new planets outside our solar system that are likely the right size and temperature to potentially have life on them, broadly hinting that we are probably not alone.
After four years of searching, the Kepler telescope has detected a total of 49 planets in the Goldilocks zone. And it only looked in a tiny part of the galaxy, one quarter of one percent of a galaxy that holds about 200 billion of stars. Seven of the 10 newfound Earth-size planets circle stars that are just like ours, not cool dwarf ones that require a planet be quite close to its star for the right temperature. That doesn't mean the planets have life, but some of the most basic requirements that life needs are there, upping the chances for life. "Are we alone? Maybe Kepler today has told us indirectly, although we need confirmation, that we are probably not alone," Kepler scientist Mario Perez said in a Monday news conference.

Outside scientists agreed that this is a boost in the hope for life elsewhere. "It implies that Earth-size planets in the habitable zone around sun-like stars are not rare," Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb, who was not part of the work, said in an email. The 10 Goldilocks planets are part of 219 new candidate planets that NASA announced Monday as part of the final batch of planets discovered in the main mission since the telescope was launched in 2009. It was designed to survey part of the galaxy to see how frequent planets are and how frequent Earth-size and potentially habitable planets are. Kepler's main mission ended in 2013 after the failure of two of its four wheels that control its orientation in space.


It's too early to know how common potentially habitable planets are in the galaxy because there are lots of factors to consider including that Kepler could only see planets that move between the telescope vision and its star, said Kepler research scientist Susan Mullally of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. It will take about a year for the Kepler team to come up with a number of habitable planet frequency, she said. Kepler has spotted more than 4,000 planet candidates and confirmed more than half of those. A dozen of the planets that seem to be in the potentially habitable zone circle Earth-like stars, not cooler red dwarfs. Circling sun-like stars make the planets "even more interesting and important," said Alan Boss, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution, who wasn't part of the Kepler team.

One of those planets — KOI7711 — is the closest analog to Earth astronomers have seen in terms of size and the energy it gets from its star, which dictates temperatures. Before Kepler was launched, astronomers had hoped that the frequency of Earth-like planets would be about one percent of the stars. The talk among scientists at a Kepler conference in California this weekend is that it is closer to 60 percent, he said. Kepler isn't the only way astronomers have found exoplanets and even potentially habitable ones. Between Kepler and other methods, scientists have now confirmed more than 3,600 exoplanets and found about 62 potentially habitable planets . "This number could have been very, very small," said Caltech astronomer Courtney Dressing. "I, for one, am ecstatic."

NASA telescope finds 10 more planets that could have life
 

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NASA Intensifying Search for Planets Orbiting Stars Beyond Our Solar System...

NASA Intensifying Search for Planets Orbiting Stars Beyond Solar System
March 29, 2018 - The search for worlds circling star far beyond our solar system will intensify in the coming weeks with NASA's launch of a spacecraft scientists hope will enlarge the known catalog of so-called exoplanets believed capable of supporting life.
NASA plans to send the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, into orbit from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket set for blast-off on April 16 on a two-year, $337-million mission. The latest NASA astrophysics endeavor is designed to build on the work of its predecessor, the Kepler space telescope, which discovered the bulk of some 3,500 exoplanets documented during the past 20 years, revolutionizing one of the newest fields in space science. NASA expects TESS to detect thousands more previously unknown worlds, perhaps hundreds of them Earth-sized or “super-Earth”-sized — no larger than twice as big as our home planet.

One of a kind orbit

Such worlds are believed to stand the greatest chance of having rocky surfaces or oceans, and are thus considered the most promising candidates for the evolution of life, as opposed to gas giants similar to Jupiter or Neptune. Astronomers said they hope to end up with about 100 more rocky exoplanets for further study. The new probe will take about 60 days to attain its highly elliptical, first-of-a-kind orbit that will loop TESS between Earth and the moon every two and a half weeks.


NASA plans to send TESS into orbit from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket set for blastoff sometime between April 16 and June on a two-year mission.​

Kepler’s positioning system broke down in 2013 about four years after its launch, and though scientists found a way to keep it operational it has nearly run out of fuel. "So it’s perfect timing that we'll be launching TESS to continue the great activity of looking for planets around stars other than our sun and thinking about what it might mean for life in the universe,” Paul Hertz, NASA’s director of astrophysics, told reporters at a news briefing in Washington on Wednesday.

Size of refrigerator

TESS, roughly the size of a refrigerator with solar-panel wings, is equipped with four special cameras to survey 200,000 stars that are relatively near the sun and thus among the brightest in the sky, seeking out those with planets of their own. Like Kepler, TESS will use a detection method called transit photometry, which looks for periodic, repetitive dips in the visible light from stars caused by planets passing, or transiting, in front of them. But unlike Kepler, which fixed its glare on stars within a tiny fraction of the sky, TESS will scan the majority of the heavens for shorter periods and focus much of its attention on stars called red dwarfs, which are smaller, cooler and longer-lived than our sun.


TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is shown in this conceptual illustration obtained by Reuters​

One reason is red dwarfs have a high propensity for Earth-sized, presumably rocky planets, making them potentially fertile ground for closer examination, said David Latham, TESS science director for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Also because red dwarfs are so small, and their planets orbit more closely than the Earth does to the sun, the dip in light from a planetary transit of a red dwarf is more pronounced compared with a larger star, Latham said. “It's easier to find interesting planets around smaller stars,” he said. Measuring dips in starlight can determine the exoplanet’s size and orbital path. Further observations from ground telescopes can supply its mass and ultimately the planet's density and composition — whether largely solid, liquid or gas.

Earth-sized planets found

Martin Still, the TESS program scientist for NASA, said more than 50 rocky, Earth- or super-Earth-sized planets have previously been identified, and NASA expects to increase that number through the new mission. The most favorable discoveries will undergo closer scrutiny by a new generation of larger, more powerful telescopes now under development that will search for telltale signs of water and “the kinds of gases in their atmospheres that on Earth are an indication of life,” Hertz said. "TESS itself will not be able to find life beyond Earth, but TESS will help us figure out where to point our larger telescopes," he said.

NASA Intensifying Search for Planets Orbiting Stars Beyond Solar System
 

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