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Topic: NASA’s Exoplanet Science Institute at the California Institute of Technology

NASA Scientists explain how they Search for Habitable Planets

 

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – There is only one planet we know of, so far, that is drenched with life. That planet is Earth, as you may have guessed, and it has all the right conditions for critters to thrive on its surface. Do other planets beyond our solar system, called exoplanets, also host life forms?

Astronomers still don’t know the answer, but they search for potentially habitable planets using a handful of criteria. Ideally, they want to find planets just like Earth, since we know without a doubt that life took root here. The hunt is on for planets about the size of Earth that orbit at just the right distance from their star – in a region termed the habitable zone.

This artist's concept shows a Super Venus planet on the left, and a Super Earth on the right. Researchers use a concept known as the habitable zone to distinguish between these two types of planets, which exist beyond our solar system. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ames)

This artist’s concept shows a Super Venus planet on the left, and a Super Earth on the right. Researchers use a concept known as the habitable zone to distinguish between these two types of planets, which exist beyond our solar system. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ames)

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NASA Scientists say Rings can form without Planets

 

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Many young stars known to host planets also possess disks containing dust and icy grains, particles produced by collisions among asteroids and comets also orbiting the star. These debris disks often show sharply defined rings or spiral patterns, features that could signal the presence of orbiting planets.

Astronomers study the disk features as a way to better understand the physical properties of known planets and possibly uncover new ones.

Debris disks around stars naturally form complex structures without the presence of a planet. This image shows the dust density and the growth of structure in a simulated disk, which extends about 100 times farther from its star than Earth's orbit around the sun. At left, the disk is seen from 24-degree angle; at right, it's face-on. Lighter colors show greater dust concentrations. (Image credit: NASA Goddard/JPL-Caltech)

Debris disks around stars naturally form complex structures without the presence of a planet. This image shows the dust density and the growth of structure in a simulated disk, which extends about 100 times farther from its star than Earth’s orbit around the sun. At left, the disk is seen from 24-degree angle; at right, it’s face-on. Lighter colors show greater dust concentrations. (Image credit: NASA Goddard/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope data shows Hot Jupiter Planets are not always Consumed by their Stars

 

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Planets are pulled by the allure of their stars. Some planets, call Hot Jupiters, are gas giants that form farther from their stars before migrating inward and heating up.

Now, a new study using data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope shows that hot Jupiters, despite their close-in orbits, are not regularly consumed by their stars. Instead, the planets remain in fairly stable orbits for billions of years, until the day comes when they may ultimately get eaten.

Researchers using data from NASA's Kepler space telescope have shown that migrating planets stop their inward journey before reaching their stars, as illustrated in this artist's concept. Jupiter-like planets, called "hot Jupiters" are known to migrate from their star's frigid outer reaches in toward the star and its blistering heat. Dozens of hot Jupiters have been discovered orbiting closely to their stars, whipping around in just days. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Researchers using data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope have shown that migrating planets stop their inward journey before reaching their stars, as illustrated in this artist’s concept. Jupiter-like planets, called “hot Jupiters” are known to migrate from their star’s frigid outer reaches in toward the star and its blistering heat. Dozens of hot Jupiters have been discovered orbiting closely to their stars, whipping around in just days. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA study suggests Asteroid Belts may provide spark for life on Earth like Planets

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Solar systems with life-bearing planets may be rare if they are dependent on the presence of asteroid belts of just the right mass, according to a study by Rebecca Martin, a NASA Sagan Fellow from the University of Colorado in Boulder, and astronomer Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, MD.

They suggest that the size and location of an asteroid belt, shaped by the evolution of the sun’s planet-forming disk and by the gravitational influence of a nearby giant Jupiter-like planet, may determine whether complex life will evolve on an Earth-like planet.

This illustration shows our solar-system model: a Jupiter-size planet moves slightly inward but is just outside the asteroid belt. (Image credit: NASA/ESA/STScI)

This illustration shows our solar-system model: a Jupiter-size planet moves slightly inward but is just outside the asteroid belt. (Image credit: NASA/ESA/STScI)

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NASA’s Exoplanet Science Institute says Alien Life Forms might be able to exist on Odd Exoplanets

 

Written by Josh Rodriguez
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Astronomers have discovered a veritable rogues’ gallery of odd exoplanets — from scorching hot worlds with molten surfaces to frigid ice balls.

And while the hunt continues for the elusive “blue dot” — a planet with roughly the same characteristics as Earth — new research reveals that life might actually be able to survive on some of the many exoplanetary oddballs that exist.

“When we’re talking about a habitable planet, we’re talking about a world where liquid water can exist,” said Stephen Kane, a scientist with the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “A planet needs to be the right distance from its star — not too hot and not too cold.” Determined by the size and heat of the star, this temperature range is commonly referred to as the “habitable zone” around a star.

A hypothetical planet is depicted here moving through the habitable zone and then further out into a long, cold winter. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A hypothetical planet is depicted here moving through the habitable zone and then further out into a long, cold winter. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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Study Shows Our Galaxy Has at Least 100 Billion Planets

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Our Milky Way galaxy contains a minimum of 100 billion planets, according to a detailed statistical study based on the detection of three planets located outside our solar system, called exoplanets.

The discovery reported in the January 12th issue of Nature, was made by an international team of astronomers, including co-author Stephen Kane of NASA’s Exoplanet Science Institute at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, CA.

This artist's illustration gives an impression of how common planets are around the stars in the Milky Way galaxy. The planets, their orbits, and their host stars are all vastly magnified compared to their real separations. A six- year search that surveyed millions of stars using the microlensing technique concluded that planets around stars are the rule rather than the exception. The average number of planets per star is greater than one. (Image credit: NASA/ESA/ESO)

This artist's illustration gives an impression of how common planets are around the stars in the Milky Way galaxy. The planets, their orbits, and their host stars are all vastly magnified compared to their real separations. A six- year search that surveyed millions of stars using the microlensing technique concluded that planets around stars are the rule rather than the exception. The average number of planets per star is greater than one. (Image credit: NASA/ESA/ESO)

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