Greenbelt, MD – A world between the sizes of Mars and Earth orbiting a bright, cool, nearby star has been discovered by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). The planet, called L 98-59b, marks the tiniest discovered by TESS to date.
Two other worlds orbit the same star. While all three planets’ sizes are known, further study with other telescopes will be needed to determine if they have atmospheres and, if so, which gases are present. The L 98-59 worlds nearly double the number of small exoplanets — that is, planets beyond our solar system — that have the best potential for this kind of follow-up.
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, CA – Explore the plethora of planets outside our solar system with new multimedia experiences from NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program (ExEP).
In addition to a new Exoplanet Travel Bureau poster celebrating a molten world called 55 Cancri e, space fans can enjoy a 360-degree visualization of the surface of the same planet, a multimedia journey into the life and death of planetary systems, and a major update to the popular Eyes on Exoplanets app.
Washington, D.C. – Fishermen would be puzzled if they netted only big and little fish, but few medium-sized fish. Astronomers likewise have been perplexed in conducting a census of star-hugging extrasolar planets. They have found hot Jupiter-sized planets and hot super-Earths (planets no more than 1.5 times Earth’s diameter).
These planets are scorching hot because they orbit very close to their star. But so-called “hot Neptunes,” whose atmospheres are heated to more than 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit, have been much harder to find. In fact, only about a handful of hot Neptunes have been found so far.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, CA – The study of exoplanets — planets that lie outside our solar system — could help scientists answer big questions about our place in the universe, and whether life exists beyond Earth.
But, these distant worlds are extremely faint and difficult to image directly. A new study uses Earth as a stand-in for an exoplanet, and shows that even with very little light — as little as one pixel — it is still possible to measure key characteristics of distant worlds.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, CA – Much like detectives who study fingerprints to identify the culprit, scientists used NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to find the “fingerprints” of water in the atmosphere of a hot, bloated, Saturn-mass exoplanet some 700 light-years away. And, they found a lot of water. In fact, the planet, known as WASP-39b, has three times as much water as Saturn does.
Though no planet like this resides in our solar system, WASP-39b can provide new insights into how and where planets form around a star, say researchers. This exoplanet is so unique, it underscores the fact that the more astronomers learn about the complexity of other worlds, the more there is to learn about their origins. This latest observation is a significant step toward characterizing these worlds.
Written by Leah Ramsay
Baltimore, MD – Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are. Astronomers are hopeful that the powerful infrared capability of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will resolve a puzzle as fundamental as stargazing itself — what IS that dim light in the sky?
Brown dwarfs muddy a clear distinction between stars and planets, throwing established understanding of those bodies, and theories of their formation, into question.
Several research teams will use Webb to explore the mysterious nature of brown dwarfs, looking for insight into both star formation and exoplanet atmospheres, and the hazy territory in-between where the brown dwarf itself exists.
Written by Elizabeth Zubritsky
Greenbelt, MD – A NASA-led team has found evidence that the oversized exoplanet WASP-18b is wrapped in a smothering stratosphere loaded with carbon monoxide and devoid of water. The findings come from a new analysis of observations made by the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes.
The formation of a stratosphere layer in a planet’s atmosphere is attributed to “sunscreen”-like molecules, which absorb ultraviolet (UV) and visible radiation coming from the star and then release that energy as heat.
Written by Carol Rasmussen
Washington, D.C. – As a young scientist, Tony del Genio of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City met Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this is a one-time opportunity,'” del Genio said. “I’ll never meet anyone else who found a planet.”
That prediction was spectacularly wrong. In 1992, two scientists discovered the first planet around another star, or exoplanet, and since then more people have found planets than throughout all of Earth’s preceding history.
Written by Donna Weaver / Ray Villard
Baltimore, MD – NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has observed a planet outside our solar system that looks as black as fresh asphalt because it eats light rather than reflecting it back into space. This light-eating prowess is due to the planet’s unique capability to trap at least 94 percent of the visible starlight falling into its atmosphere.
The oddball exoplanet, called WASP-12b, is one of a class of so-called “hot Jupiters,” gigantic, gaseous planets that orbit very close to their host star and are heated to extreme temperatures.
Written by Elizabeth Landau
Pasadena, CA – Scientists have discovered the strongest evidence to date for a stratosphere on a planet outside our solar system, or exoplanet. A stratosphere is a layer of atmosphere in which temperature increases with higher altitudes.
“This result is exciting because it shows that a common trait of most of the atmospheres in our solar system — a warm stratosphere — also can be found in exoplanet atmospheres,” said Mark Marley, study co-author based at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “We can now compare processes in exoplanet atmospheres with the same processes that happen under different sets of conditions in our own solar system.”
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