habitable planets

Complex Life Might Require a Very Narrow Habitable Zone

Complex Life Might Require a Very Narrow Habitable Zone

Since the Kepler Space Telescope was launched into space, the number of known planets beyond our Solar System (exoplanets) has grown exponentially. At present, 3,917 planets have been confirmed in 2,918 star systems, while 3,368 await confirmation. Of these, about 50 orbit within their star’s circumstellar habitable zone (aka. “Goldilocks Zone”) , the distance at which liquid water can exist on a planets’ surface.

Rocky? Habitable? Sizing up a Galaxy of Planets

Rocky? Habitable? Sizing up a Galaxy of Planets

The planets so far discovered across the Milky Way are a motley, teeming multitude: hot Jupiters, gas giants, small, rocky worlds and mysterious planets larger than Earth and smaller than Neptune. As we prepare to add many thousands more to the thousands found already, the search goes on for evidence of life – and for a world something like our own.

The Closest Planet Ever Discovered Outside the Solar System Could be Habitable With a Dayside Ocean

The Closest Planet Ever Discovered Outside the Solar System Could be Habitable With a Dayside Ocean

In of August of 2016, astronomers from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) confirmed the existence of an Earth-like planet around Proxima Centauri – the closest star to our Solar System. In addition, they confirmed that this planet (Proxima b) orbited within its star’s habitable zone. Since that time, multiple studies have been conducted to determine if Proxima b could in fact be habitable.

Inferno World with Titanium Skies - ESO’s VLT makes first detection of titanium oxide in an exoplanet!

Inferno World with Titanium Skies - ESO’s VLT makes first detection of titanium oxide in an exoplanet!

Astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope have detected titanium oxide in an exoplanet atmosphere for the first time. This discovery around the hot-Jupiter planet WASP-19b exploited the power of the FORS2 instrument. It provides unique information about the chemical composition and the temperature and pressure structure of the atmosphere of this unusual and very hot world. The results appear today in the journal Nature.

Three possible super-earths discovered around nearby sun-like star!

Three possible super-earths discovered around nearby sun-like star!

Since it was launched in 2009, NASA’s Kepler mission has continued to make important exoplanet discoveries. Even after the failure of two reaction wheels, the space observatory has found new life in the form of its K2 mission. All told, this space observatory has detected 5,017 candidates and confirmed the existence of 2,494 exoplanets using the Transit Method during its past eight years in service.

Earth-Size Planets: The Newest, Weirdest Generation

Earth-Size Planets: The Newest, Weirdest Generation

Scientists are pondering the possibilities after this week’s announcement: the discovery of seven worlds orbiting a small, cool star some 40 light-years away, all of them in the ballpark of our home planet in terms of their heft (mass) and size (diameter).

Huge news, seven earth-sized worlds orbiting a red dwarf, three in the habitable zone

Huge news, seven earth-sized worlds orbiting a red dwarf, three in the habitable zone

In what is surely the biggest news since the hunt for exoplanets began, NASA announced today the discovery of a system of seven exoplanets orbiting the nearby star of TRAPPIST-1. Discovered by a team of astronomers using data from the TRAPPIST telescope in Chile and the Spitzer Space Telescope, this find is especially exciting since all of these planets are believed to be Earth-sized and terrestrial (i.e. rocky).

NASA Team Looks to Ancient Earth First to Study Hazy Exoplanets

NASA Team Looks to Ancient Earth First to Study Hazy Exoplanets

For astronomers trying to understand which distant planets might have habitable conditions, the role of atmospheric haze has been hazy. To help sort it out, a team of researchers has been looking to Earth – specifically Earth during the Archean era, an epic 1-1/2-billion-year period early in our planet’s history.

VLT to Search for Planets in Alpha Centauri System

VLT to Search for Planets in Alpha Centauri System

ESO has signed an agreement with the Breakthrough Initiatives to adapt the Very Large Telescope instrumentation in Chile to conduct a search for planets in the nearby star system Alpha Centauri. Such planets could be the targets for an eventual launch of miniature space probes by the Breakthrough Starshot initiative.

Could Garnet Planets Be Habitable?

Could Garnet Planets Be Habitable?

The hunt for exoplanet has revealed some very interesting things about our Universe. In addition to the many gas giants and “Super-Jupiters” discovered by mission like Kepler, there have also been the many exoplanet candidate that comparable in size and structure to Earth. But while these bodies may be terrestrial (i.e. composed of minerals and rocky material) this does not mean that they are “Earth-like”.

Martian Mineral Point Towards Past Habitability

Martian Mineral Point Towards Past Habitability

For over a year, the Curiosity rover has been making its way up the slopes of Mount Sharp, the central peak within the Gale Crater. As the rover moves higher along this formation, it has been taking drill samples so that it might look into Mars’ ancient past. Combined with existing evidence that water existed within the crater, this would have provided favorable conditions for microbial life.

Study: Planet Orbiting Nearest Star Could be Habitable

Study: Planet Orbiting Nearest Star Could be Habitable

A rocky extrasolar planet with a mass similar to Earth’s was recently detected around Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to our sun. This planet, called Proxima b, is in an orbit that would allow it to have liquid water on its surface, thus raising the question of its habitability. In a study to be published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, an international team led by researchers at the Marseille Astrophysics Laboratory (CNRS/Aix-Marseille Université) has determined the planet’s dimensions and properties of its surface, which actually favor its habitability.

Thrilling discovery: Planet Found in Habitable Zone Around Our Nearest neighbouring Star

Thrilling discovery: Planet Found in Habitable Zone Around Our Nearest neighbouring Star

Astronomers using ESO telescopes and other facilities have found clear evidence of a planet orbiting the closest star to Earth, Proxima Centauri. The long-sought world, designated Proxima b, orbits its cool red parent star every 11 days and has a temperature suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface. This rocky world is a little more massive than the Earth and is the closest exoplanet to us — and it may also be the closest possible abode for life outside the Solar System. A paper describing this milestone finding will be published in the journal Nature on 25 August 2016.

Three Potentially Habitable Worlds Found Around Nearby Ultracool Dwarf Star, Currently the best place to search for life beyond the Solar System

Three Potentially Habitable Worlds Found Around Nearby Ultracool Dwarf Star, Currently the best place to search for life beyond the Solar System

Astronomers using the TRAPPIST telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory have discovered three planets orbiting an ultracool dwarf star just 40 light-years from Earth. These worlds have sizes and temperatures similar to those of Venus and Earth and are the best targets found so far for the search for life outside the Solar System. They are the first planets ever discovered around such a tiny and dim star. The new results will be published in the journal Nature on 2 May 2016.

Here’s how we could build a colony on an alien world

Here’s how we could build a colony on an alien world

If the human race is to survive in the long-run, we will probably have to colonise other planets. Whether we make the Earth uninhabitable ourselves or it simply reaches the natural end of its ability to support life, one day we will have to look for a new home.

Novel Calibration Tool Will Help Astronomers Look for Habitable Exoplanets

Novel Calibration Tool Will Help Astronomers Look for Habitable Exoplanets

Promising new calibration tools, called laser frequency combs, could allow astronomers to take a major step in discovering and characterizing earthlike planets around other stars. These devices generate evenly spaced lines of light, much like the teeth on a comb for styling hair or the tick marks on a ruler—hence their nickname of "optical rulers." The tick marks serve as stable reference points when making precision measurements such as those of the small shifts in starlight caused by planets pulling gravitationally on their parent stars.

New destination for space-faring civilizations?

New destination for space-faring civilizations?

Globular star clusters are amazing in almost every way. They’re densely packed, holding a million stars in a ball only about 100 light-years across on average. They’re old, dating back almost to the birth of the Milky Way. And according to new research, they also could be extraordinarily good places to look for space-faring civilizations.

How did Mars lose its habitable climate? The answer is blowing in the solar wind

How did Mars lose its habitable climate? The answer is blowing in the solar wind

“Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids – in fact it’s cold as hell,” sings Elton John in Rocket Man. And it’s true: the present atmosphere and surface of Mars are certainly inhospitable for any aspiring rocket man. Since Mars lost its magnetic field 3.8 billion years ago, the pressure of its once Earth-like atmosphere has gradually reduced to just 1% of Earth’s, letting through damaging UV light and cosmic radiation that make the surface a lot less habitable.

If we are to find life beyond Earth, we need to be explorers, not hunters

If we are to find life beyond Earth, we need to be explorers, not hunters

The news that the search for extraterrestrial intelligence is to receive increased funding and data through the $100m (£64m) Breakthrough Listen project is welcome news for astrobiologists like myself. Launched by Stephen Hawking, it particularly helps to allay growing concerns in the field about having too narrow a focus in our search for life in the universe.