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Interstellar seeds could create oases of life

30 August 2015 Astronomy Now

We only have one example of a planet with life: Earth. But within the next generation, it should become possible to detect signs of life on planets orbiting distant stars. If we find alien life, new questions will arise. For example, did that life arise spontaneously? Or could it have spread from elsewhere? If life crossed the vast gulf of interstellar space long ago, how would we tell?

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The closest rocky, transiting exoplanet found in Cassiopeia

31 July 2015 Astronomy Now

Northern Hemisphere astronomers are familiar with the W-shaped star pattern of Cassiopeia, a circumpolar constellation near the Pole Star that never sets for latitudes north of 35°. Tucked next to one leg of the W lies a modest 5th-magnitude star named HD 219134 that has been hiding a secret.

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Astronomers find runaway galaxies

25 April 2015 Astronomy Now

Researchers mining data from Virtual Observatory archives found 11 previously unknown compact elliptical galaxies that were isolated from from any galaxy cluster, flung out of their homes at speeds up to 6 million miles per hour to wander the void of intergalactic space.

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NASA’s Kepler spacecraft proves it can still find planets

19 December 2014 Astronomy Now

When the primary mission of NASA’s Kepler spacecraft ended in May 2013 due to a failure of its stabilisation system, a team of scientists and engineers developed an ingenious strategy to control the spacecraft. The resulting second mission, K2, has a newfound planet — HIP 116454b

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Ground-based detection of super-Earth transit

1 December 2014 Astronomy Now

A team of astronomers has measured the passing of a super-Earth in front of a bright, nearby Sun-like star using a ground-based telescope for the first time. Exoplanet 55 Cancri e, some 40 light-years away, is about twice as big and eight times as massive as the Earth.