By Pat Brennan NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program
The news is out of this world: NASA’s TESS space telescope has captured evidence of more than 2,200 candidate planets orbiting bright, nearby stars, including hundreds of “smaller” planets – many possibly rocky worlds in some ways similar to Earth.
An international research team with members from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) has developed a new method for directly imaging smaller planets in the habitable zone of a neighbouring star system. This opens up new possibilities in the search for extra-terrestrial life.
by Felix Wuersten
ZURICH — In the search for planets capable of sustaining life, an international research team with members from ETH has taken a significant step forward. As the researchers reported recently in the journal Nature Communications, they found signs of a Neptune-sized planet in the Alpha Centauri star system, a mere 4.4 light years away from Earth. This exoplanet is located in a zone that may offer suitable conditions for life. The team was able to collect data with unprecedented sensitivity, thus registering even very weak signals.
By Francis Reddy NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center,
GREENBELT, Md. — Using observations from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), an international team of astronomers has discovered a trio of hot worlds larger than Earth orbiting a much younger version of our Sun called TOI 451. The system resides in the recently discovered Pisces-Eridanus stream, a collection of stars less than 3% the age of our solar system that stretches across one-third of the sky.
PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA’s exoplanet mission Cheops has revealed a unique planetary system consisting of six exoplanets, five of which are locked in a rare rhythmic dance as they orbit their central star. The sizes and masses of the planets, however, don’t follow such an orderly pattern. This finding challenges current theories of planet formation.
Precise measurements reveal that the exoplanets have remarkably similar densities, which provides clues about their composition.
PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — The red dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 is home to the largest group of roughly Earth-size planets ever found in a single stellar system. Located about 40 light-years away, these seven rocky siblings provide an example of the tremendous variety of planetary systems that likely fill the universe.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has chosen four small-scale astrophysics missions for further concept development in a new program called Pioneers. Through small satellites and scientific balloons, these selections enable new platforms for exploring cosmic phenomena such as galaxy evolution, exoplanets, high-energy neutrinos, and neutron star mergers.
HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Dozens of experiments are going on at any given time aboard the International Space Station. Research conducted in 2020 is advancing our understanding in areas of study from Parkinson’s disease to combustion.
Space station research results published this year came from experiments performed and data collected during the past 20 years of continuous human habitation aboard the orbiting laboratory. Between October 1, 2019, and October 1, 2020, the station’s Program Research Office identified more than 300 scientific publications based on space station research.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In 2020, NASA made significant progress on America’s Moon to Mars exploration strategy, met mission objectives for the Artemis program, achieved significant scientific advancements to benefit humanity, and returned human spaceflight capabilities to the United States, all while agency teams acted quickly to assist the national COVID-19 response.
\MONTREAL (ABB PR) — A two-year contract awarded to ABB from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will see key ABB/Nüvü Camēras technology fly onboard the space telescope in 2025, on course to capture the first spaceborne images of planets outside our solar system.
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (SETI Institute PR) – Thanks to new research using data from the Kepler space telescope, it’s estimated that there could be as many as 300 million potentially habitable planets in our galaxy. Some could even be pretty close, with several likely within 30 light-years of our Sun. The findings will be published in The Astronomical Journal, and research was a collaboration of scientists from NASA, the SETI Institute, and other organizations worldwide.
BERN, Switzerland (University of Bern PR) — An international team of researchers led by the National Centre of Competence in Research PlanetS of the University of Bern and the University of Geneva studied the atmosphere of the ultra-hot exoplanet WASP-121b. In it, they found a number of gaseous metals. The results are a next step in the search for potentially habitable worlds.
PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA’s new exoplanet mission, Cheops, has found a nearby planetary system to contain one of the hottest and most extreme extra-solar planets known to date: WASP-189 b. The finding, the very first from the mission, demonstrates Cheops’ unique ability to shed light on the Universe around us by revealing the secrets of these alien worlds.
Launched in December 2019, Cheops (the Characterising Exoplanet Satellite) is designed to observe nearby stars known to host planets. By ultra-precisely measuring changes in the levels of light coming from these systems as the planets orbit their stars, Cheops can initially characterise these planets — and, in turn, increase our understanding of how they form and evolve.
TEMPE, Ariz. (Arizona State University PR) — As missions like NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, TESS and Kepler continue to provide insights into the properties of exoplanets (planets around other stars), scientists are increasingly able to piece together what these planets look like, what they are made of and if they could be habitable or even inhabited.