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.
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?
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.
NASA managers say the WFIRST mission, the next in the agency’s line of powerful observatories after the Hubble and James Webb telescopes, could cost around $3.2 billion after budgeting for a novel first-of-its-kind instrument to probe the make-up of planets around nearby stars and a bigger-than-expected launch vehicle.