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.
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.
In his third report from the Royal Astronomical Society’s NAM2015, Kulvinder Singh Chadha examines the Sun in X-ray and ultraviolet wavelengths from three different spacecraft, dons a virtual reality planetarium headset, and investigates if the proposed James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) could discern Earth-sized worlds that are habitable.
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.
Researchers at the Australian National University and the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen have calculated that billions of stars in the Milky Way will have between one and three planets in the habitable zone conducive to liquid water, by using a law proposed in 1766 that helped to discover Uranus.