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Exoplanet anniversary: from zero to thousands in 20 years

7 October 2015 Astronomy Now

On 6 October 1995, astronomers started a revolution with the discovery of 51 Pegasi b — the first planet found orbiting a Sun-like star beyond our solar system. As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of that momentous discovery, the current total of known exoplanets stands at 5,596. More than 1,000 of these were discovered by NASA’s Kepler mission.

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“Failed stars” host powerful auroral displays

30 July 2015 Astronomy Now

Brown dwarfs are relatively cool, dim objects that are too massive to be planets, yet they are too small to sustain hydrogen fusion reactions. By observing a brown dwarf 20 light-years away, researchers have found another feature that makes these so-called failed stars more like supersized planets — they host powerful aurorae near their magnetic poles.

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Volcanic outgassing to aid in the search for life on other planets

11 June 2015 Kerry Hebden

Finding ways to confirm life on planets outside of our Solar System is often at the forefront of exoplanet research. Now a team of graduate students at the University of Washington (UW) have found a way to aid this search by proposing that future telescopes should look for explosive volcanic activity as a potential marker for life on other worlds.