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NASA’s Hubble captures blistering pitch-black planet

17 September 2017 Astronomy Now

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has observed a planet outside our solar system that looks as black as fresh asphalt because it eats light rather than reflecting it back into space. This light-eating prowess is due to the planet’s unique capability to trap at least 94 percent of the visible starlight falling into its atmosphere.

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TRAPPIST-1 is older than our Solar System

15 August 2017 Astronomy Now

Scientists now have a good estimate for the age of one of the most intriguing planetary systems discovered to date — TRAPPIST-1, a system of seven Earth-size worlds orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star about 40 light-years away. Researchers say in a new study that the TRAPPIST-1 star is quite old: between 5.4 and 9.8 billion years. This is up to twice as old as our own Solar System, which formed some 4.5 billion years ago.

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Study teams comb through NASA’s wish list for new telescope

21 July 2017 Stephen Clark

Scientists outlining four concepts for a powerful new space telescope that could launch in the 2030s this week said improvements in optics, detectors and access to huge new rockets like NASA’s Space Launch System could revolutionize the way astronomers observe potentially habitable planets, black holes, and the earliest galaxies in the Universe.

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Exoplanet hunter sees first light at La Silla Observatory

19 July 2017 Astronomy Now

The MASCARA station at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile has achieved first light. This new facility will seek out transiting exoplanets as they pass in front of their bright parent stars and create a catalogue of targets for future exoplanet characterisation observations.

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Updated Kepler catalog contains 219 new exoplanet candidates

21 June 2017 Stephen Clark

Scientists have published a catalog of exoplanet discoveries made by NASA’s Kepler space telescope, identifying 219 previously-unknown planet candidates circling stars elsewhere in the galaxy, including 10 would-be worlds that appear to be about the same size of Earth with temperatures potentially hospitable for life.

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Mini-flares potentially jeopardise habitability of planets circling red dwarf stars

11 June 2017 Astronomy Now

Cool dwarf stars are hot targets for exoplanet hunting right now. The discoveries of planets in the habitable zones of the TRAPPIST-1 and LHS 1140 systems, for example, suggest that Earth-sized worlds might circle billions of red dwarf stars, the most common type of star in our galaxy. But, like our own sun, many of these stars erupt with intense flares. Are red dwarfs really as friendly to life as they appear, or do these flares make the surfaces of any orbiting planets inhospitable?

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Astronomers find planet hotter than most stars

7 June 2017 Astronomy Now

A newly discovered Jupiter-like world is so hot, it’s being vaporized by its own star. With a dayside temperature of more than 7,800 degrees Fahrenheit, KELT-9b is a planet that is hotter than most stars. But its blue A-type star, called KELT-9, is even hotter — in fact, it is probably unraveling the planet through evaporation.