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A highly eccentric “hot Jupiter” exoplanet

29 March 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers have observed the extreme temperature variations of HD 80606 b, a Jupiter-sized exoplanet with a highly eccentric, comet-like orbit that brings it scorchingly close to its parent star every 111 days. The researchers also calculated the planet’s rotation rate — the first exoplanet rotation rate ever obtained.

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Dust grains could be remnants of stellar explosions billions of years ago

9 March 2016 Astronomy Now

Microscopic particles of stardust, known as “pre-solar grains,” have been found in meteoritic material on Earth. Researchers are investigating whether these particles may have formed in classical novae explosions, ejecting stellar material in the form of gas and dust into the space between stars in the galaxy, eventually to be recycled in the creation of our solar system.

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Cosmochemists find evidence for rare element in early solar system

6 March 2016 Astronomy Now

University of Chicago scientists have discovered evidence in a meteorite that a rare element, curium, was present during the formation of the solar system. This finding ends a 35-year-old debate on the possible presence of curium in the early solar system, and plays a crucial role in reassessing models of stellar evolution and synthesis of elements in stars.

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High-speed CHIMERA to scout for Kuiper Belt objects

4 March 2016 Astronomy Now

At the Palomar Observatory near San Diego, astronomers are busy tinkering with a high-tech instrument that could discover a variety of objects both far from Earth and closer to home. The Caltech HIgh-speed Multi-colour camERA (CHIMERA) system is looking for objects in the Kuiper Belt, the band of icy bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune that includes Pluto.

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Adding a new dimension to the early chemistry of the solar system

6 February 2016 Astronomy Now

An international research team has used sophisticated computer simulations to calculate a two-dimensional map of the dust chemistry in the solar nebula, the thin dusty disc that surrounded the young Sun and out of which the planets formed. The study has given new insights into the chemical composition of the dust grains that formed in the solar system 4.5 billion years ago.

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Jupiter kicked a giant planet out of the solar system 4 billion years ago

3 November 2015 Astronomy Now

The existence of a fifth giant gas planet at the time of the solar system’s formation — in addition to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune that we know of today — was first proposed in 2011. Now astrophysicists at the University of Toronto have found that a close encounter with Jupiter about four billion years ago may have resulted in the fifth giant planet’s ejection from the solar system altogether.

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Theoretical study concludes most Earth-like worlds have yet to be born

20 October 2015 Astronomy Now

Earth came early to the party in the evolving universe. According to a new theoretical study, when our solar system was born 4.6 billion years ago only eight percent of the potentially habitable planets that will ever form in the universe existed. And, the party won’t be over when the Sun burns out in another 6 billion years. The bulk of those planets — 92 percent — have yet to be born.

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Largest planets likely formed first from icy “planetary pebbles”

20 August 2015 Astronomy Now

Researchers at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and Queen’s University in Canada have unravelled the mystery of how Jupiter and Saturn likely formed using computer simulations. The discovery, which changes our view of how all planets might have formed, also suggests that the gas giants in the solar system probably formed before the terrestrial planets.

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Scientists solve age-old planetary ring riddle

6 August 2015 Astronomy Now

An international team of scientists has solved an age-old scientific riddle by discovering that planetary rings, such as those orbiting Saturn, have a universally similar particle distribution. The study also suggests that Saturn’s rings are essentially in a steady state that does not depend on their history.