Earths in Other Solar Systems

A NASA-funded Research project to Understand Where and How Earth-like Planets that are Suitable for Life Form


From the DistantEarths blog of Daniel Apai After two hours of hike up on a rocky trail in the Italian Alps, finally I stand at an elevation just above 2,500 meters, staring at a breathtaking and unique mountain range, the Dolomites, that holds an exciting clue to the habitability of our planet. With gigantic sharp white-gray peaks emerging from the lush green of Alpine meadows, these mountains rise where the African continental plate...

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We know of a lot of exoplanets. Most, though, we know of only by indirect means – typically via the planet occulting some of the starlight during an eclipse or changing the star’s velocity due to the planet’s own gravity. As of today (June 29, 2016) the exoplanet database lists 2,933 confirmed planets, with another 2,504 probable candidates, totaling to about 5,000 bona fide planet detections. Of these, only seven have been...

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  The planets of our solar system formed out of a swirling disk of gas and dust billions of years ago. The material that accreted to become the Earth lacked water and organic material because it formed at a distance that was too close to the sun for such materials to condense and collect on the new-born planet. Despite Earth’s rocky start, life organized, evolved, and now dominates this small, terrestrial planet orbiting 93...

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The Future of Exoplanet Research


Posted By on Jun 16, 2016

By Daniel Apai Includes interview with Nick Siegler and Shawn Domagal-Goldman Over the weekend, at the Hilton on the San Diego Bay, a small group met to speak about the present and future of NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration program. To someone not in the field of exoplanets the talks and debates may have resembled science fiction: giant space telescopes, rockets and spacewalks, hyper-precise measurements of stellar motion, search...

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Just before 4 a.m. on June 2, Arizona’s night sky seemed to momentarily catch fire. A meteor, about 5-feet across, burned through the atmosphere at 40,200 mph, according to NASA estimates. The small debris that reached the Earth’s surface are called meteorites, and can be used to study the origins of the solar system. Credits: NASA/MEO Meteorites can be made out of iron, stone or rarely, both. Scientists at Project EOS are most...

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The Sun’s planetary system, like the many other systems discovered in the last 2 decades, formed out of a protoplanetary disk. These disks are a natural by-product of star formation (almost every young star has one) and consist of a lot of gas (mostly hydrogen) and a small amount of solid dust particles. On timescales of hundreds of thousands of years, these dust grains collide and stick together, forming larger and larger bodies that...

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Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have measured the rotation rate of an extreme exoplanet by observing the varied brightness in its atmosphere. This is the first measurement of the rotation of a massive exoplanet using direct imaging. “The result is very exciting,” said Daniel Apai of the University of Arizona in Tucson, leader of the Hubble investigation. “It gives us a unique technique to...

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The curious case of KIC 8462852 by Theodora Karalidi   Discovering the first planet, other than our Earth, that hosts life is one of the holy grails of astronomy. This is a difficult task since planets that could host life are pretty small compared to their parent star, and they are so far away from us that all the information on possible life, clouds, oceans or continents on the planet is hidden in one pixel. Theorists like...

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Exoplanets around Red Dwarf Stars


Posted By on Feb 12, 2016

Exoplanets around Red Dwarf Stars by Gijs Mulders   Since the discovery in 1995 of the first exoplanet over two-thousand exoplanets have been discovered. Most exoplanets, such as those discovered by the Kepler spacecraft, orbit stars similar in mass to the sun. Directly imaged planets, such as those discussed by Kevin Wagner in a previous blog post, are mainly discovered around stars more massive than the sun (A or F stars)....

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By Kevin Wagner Searching for planets outside of our own solar system is one of the great challenges in modern astronomy. The problem consists of measuring the brightness of a planet that is more than a million times fainter than its host star, while being so close to the star that even to the world’s largest telescopes the two appear as one due to the blurring of the Earth’s atmosphere – akin to trying to detect a firefly next to a...

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