Like cosmic ballet dancers, the stars of the Pleiades cluster are spinning, but all at different speeds. By watching these stellar dancers, NASA’s Kepler space telescope has helped amass the most complete catalogue of rotation periods for stars in a cluster. This information can provide insight into where and how planets form around these stars, and how such stars evolve.
More than 100 confirmed exoplanets — the biggest haul of worlds uncovered by the stabilised and repurposed Kepler space telescope in its K2 mission — is reported by an international science team led by the University of Arizona. Excitingly, the new population includes many worlds that could be rocky and cool enough to potentially support life.
By combining data from two space observatories, astronomers have revealed something surprising: a 955-mile-wide dwarf planet named 2007 OR10 is significantly larger than previously thought. Although its 547-year-long elliptical orbit brings it nearly as close to the Sun as Neptune, 2007 OR10 is currently twice as far from the Sun as Pluto.
NASA’s Kepler mission has verified 1,284 new planets — the single largest finding of planets to date. Of the nearly 5,000 total planet candidates found to date, more than 3,200 now have been verified, and 2,325 of these were discovered by the space telescope. Launched in March 2009, Kepler is the first NASA mission to find potentially habitable Earth-size planets.
In a global exoplanet observation experiment, NASA’s Kepler K2 mission and Earth-based observatories on six continents hope to survey millions of stars toward the centre of our Milky Way galaxy. Using a technique called gravitational microlensing, scientists will hunt for exoplanets that orbit far from their host star and for free-floating exoplanets that wander between the stars.
How many stars like our Sun host planets like our Earth? NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope continuously monitored more than 150,000 stars beyond our solar system, and to date has offered scientists an assortment of more than 4,000 candidate planets for further study — the 1,000th of which was recently verified.
From possible ice volcanoes to twirling moons, NASA’s New Horizons science team is discussing more than 50 exciting discoveries about Pluto at this week’s 47th Annual Meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences. The two cryovolcano candidates are large features measuring tens of miles across and several miles high.
New close-up images of Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft reveal a bewildering variety of surface features that have scientists reeling because of their range and complexity. Images downlinked in the past few days reveal new features as diverse as possible dunes, nitrogen ice flows oozing out of mountainous regions onto plains, and even networks of valleys possibly carved by material flowing over Pluto’s surface.
A new close-up image of Pluto from New Horizons reveals a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old. This frozen region is north of Pluto’s icy mountains, in the centre-left of the heart feature, informally named “Tombaugh Regio” (Tombaugh Region) after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930.
Now just five days away from its close encounter with dwarf planet Pluto, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft beams back the first image to be received since the 4 July anomaly that sent the spacecraft into safe mode, indicating that all systems appear to be functioning normally. The flyby sequence of science observations is officially underway.