Displaying images 31 - 60 of 92 in total
This sky map shows the location of the star HD 219134 (circle), host to the nearest confirmed rocky planet found to date outside of our solar system. The star lies just off the "W" shape of the constellation Cassiopeia and can be seen with the naked eye in dark skies. It actually has multiple planets, none of which are habitable.
This artist's conception shows the silhouette of a rocky planet, dubbed HD 219134b, as it passes in front of its star. At 21 light-years away, the planet is the closest outside of our solar system that can be seen crossing, or transiting, its star -- a bonus for astronomers because transiting planets make ideal specimens for detailed studies of their atmospheres. It was discovered using the HARPS-North instrument on the Italian 3.6-meter National Galileo Telescope in the Canary Islands, and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The planet, which is about 1.6 times the size of Earth, is also the nearest confirmed rocky planet outside our solar system. It orbits a star that is cooler and smaller than our sun, whipping closely around it in a mere three days. The proximity of the planet to the star means that it would be scorching hot and not habitable. Transiting planets are ideal targets for astronomers wanting to know more about planetary compositions and atmospheres. As a planet passes in front of its star, it causes the starlight to dim, and telescopes can measure this effect. If molecules are present in the planet's atmosphere, they can absorb certain wavelengths of light, leaving imprints in the starlight. This type of technique will be used in the future to investigate potentially habitable planets and search for signs of life.
This artist's rendition shows one possible appearance for the planet HD 219134b, the nearest rocky exoplanet found to date outside our solar system. The planet is 1.6 times the size of Earth, and whips around its star in just three days. Scientists predict that the scorching-hot planet -- known to be rocky through measurements of its mass and size -- would have a rocky, partially molten surface with geological activity, including possibly volcanoes.
This artist's concept shows a hypothetical "rejuvenated" planet -- a gas giant that has reclaimed its youthful infrared glow. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope found tentative evidence for one such planet around a dead star, or white dwarf, called PG 0010+280 (depicted as white dot in illustration). When planets are young, they are warm and toasty due to internal heat left over from their formation. Planets cool over time -- until they are possibly rejuvenated. The theory goes that this Jupiter-like planet, which orbits far from its star, would accumulate some of the material sloughed off by its star as the star was dying. The material would cause the planet to swell in mass. As the material fell onto the planet, it would heat up due to friction and glow with infrared light. The final result would be an old planet, billions of years in age, radiating infrared light as it did in its youth. Spitzer detected an excess infrared light around the white dwarf PG 0010+280. Astronomers aren't sure where the light is coming from, but one possibility is a rejuvenated planet. Future observations may help solve the mystery. A Jupiter-like planet is about ten times the size of a white dwarf. White dwarfs are about the size of Earth, so one white dwarf would easily fit into the Great Red Spot on Jupiter!
This artists impression of super-Earth 55 Cancri e shows a hot partially-molten surface of the planet before and after possible volcanic activity on the day side. Using NASAs Spitzer Space Telescope, the researchers observed thermal emissions coming from the planet, called 55 Cancri e orbiting a sun-like star located 40 light years away in the Cancer constellation and for the first time found rapidly changing conditions, with temperatures on the hot day side of the planet swinging between 1000 and 2700 degrees Celsius. Although the interpretations of the new data are still preliminary, the researchers believe the variability in temperature could be due to huge plumes of gas and dust which occasionally blanket the surface, which may be partially molten. The plumes could be caused by exceptionally high rates of volcanic activity, higher than what has been observed on Io, one of Jupiters moons and the most geologically active body in the solar system. The full University of Cambridge release can be found here: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/astronomers-find-first-evidence-of-changing-conditions-on-a-super-earth
This infographic explains how NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope can be used in tandem with a telescope on the ground to measure the distances to planets discovered using the "microlensing" technique.
Astronomers have discovered one of the most distant planets known, a gas giant about 13,000 light-years from Earth, called OGLE-2014-BLG-0124L. The planet was discovered using a technique called microlensing, and the help of NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment, or OGLE. In this artist's illustration, planets discovered with microlensing are shown in yellow. The farthest lies in the center of our galaxy, 25,000 light-years away. Most of the known exoplanets, numbering in the thousands, have been discovered by NASA's Kepler space telescope, which uses a different strategy called the transit method. Kepler's cone-shaped field of view is shown in pink/orange. Ground-based telescopes, which use the transit and other planet-hunting methods, have discovered many exoplanets close to home, as shown by the pink/orange circle around the sun.
This plot shows data obtained from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment, or OGLE, telescope located in Chile, during a "microlensing" event. Microlensing events occur when one star passes another, and the gravity of the foreground star causes the distant star's light to magnify and brighten. This magnification is evident in the plot, as both Spitzer and OGLE register an increase in the star's brightness. If the foreground star is circled by a planet, the planets gravity can alter the magnification over a shorter period, seen in the plot in the form of spikes and a dip. The great distance between Spitzer, in space, and OGLE, on the ground, meant that Spitzer saw this particular microlensing event before OGLE. The offset in the timing can be used to measure the distance to the planet. In this case, the planet, called OGLE-2014-BLG-0124L, was found to be 13,000 light-years away, near the center of our Milky Way galaxy. The finding was the result of fortuitous timing because Spitzer's overall program to observe microlensing events was only just starting up in the week before the planet's effects were visible from Spitzers vantage point. While Spitzer sees infrared light of 3.6 microns in wavelength, OGLE sees visible light of 0.8 microns.
Scientists were excited to discover clear skies on a relatively small planet, about the size of Neptune, using the combined power of NASA's Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes. The view from this planet -- were it possible to fly a spaceship into its gaseous layers -- is illustrated here. The clear planet, called HAT-P-11b, is gaseous with a rocky core, much like our own Neptune. Its atmosphere may have clouds deeper down, but the new observations show that the upper region is cloud-free. This good visibility enabled scientists to detect water vapor molecules in the planet's atmosphere.
Scientists were excited to discover clear skies on a relatively small planet, about the size of Neptune, using the combined power of NASA's Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes. The view from this planet -- were it possible to fly a spaceship into its gaseous layers -- is illustrated at right. Before now, all of the planets observed in this size range had been found to have high cloud layers that blocked the ability to detect molecules in the planet's atmosphere (illustrated at left). The clear planet, called HAT-P-11b, is gaseous with a rocky core, much like our own Neptune. Its atmosphere may have clouds deeper down, but the new observations show that the upper region is cloud-free. This good visibility enabled scientists to detect water vapor molecules in the planet's atmosphere.
A Neptune-size planet with a clear atmosphere is shown crossing in front of its star in this artist's depiction. Such crossings, or transits, are observed by telescopes like NASA's Hubble and Spitzer to glean information about planets' atmospheres. As starlight passes through a planet's atmosphere, atoms and molecules absorb light at certain wavelengths, blocking it from the telescope's view. The more light a planet blocks, the larger the planet appears. By analyzing the amount of light blocked by the planet at different wavelengths, researchers can determine which molecules make up the atmosphere. The problem with this technique is that sometimes planets have thick clouds that block any light from coming through, hiding the signature of the molecules in the atmosphere. This is particularly true of the handful of Neptune-size and super-Earth planets examined to date, all of which appear to be cloudy. As a result, astronomers were elated to find clear skies on a Neptune-size planet called HAT-P-11b, as illustrated here. Without clouds to block their view, they were able to identify water vapor molecules in the planet's atmosphere. The blue rim of the planet in this image is due to scattered light, while the orange rim on the part of the planet in front of the star indicates the region where water vapor was detected.
A plot of the transmission spectrum for exoplanet HAT-P-11b, with data from NASA's Kepler, Hubble and Spitzer observatories combined. The results show a robust detection of water absorption in the Hubble data. Transmission spectra of selected atmospheric models are plotted for comparison.
Scientists were excited to discover clear skies on a relatively small planet, about the size of Neptune, using the combined power of NASA's Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes. Before now, all of the planets observed in this size range had been found to have high cloud layers that blocked the ability to detect molecules in the planet's atmosphere. The clear planet, called HAT-P-11b, is gaseous with a rocky core, much like our own Neptune. Its atmosphere may have clouds deeper down, but the new observations show that the upper region is cloud-free. This good visibility enabled scientists to detect water vapor molecules in the planet's atmosphere.
This artist's concept shows what the weather might look like on cool star-like bodies known as brown dwarfs. These giant balls of gas start out life like stars, but lack the mass to sustain nuclear fusion at their cores, and instead, fade and cool with time. New research from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope suggests that most brown dwarfs are racked with colossal storms akin to Jupiter's famous "Great Red Spot." These storms may be marked by fierce winds, and possibly lightning. The turbulent clouds might also rain down molten iron, hot sand or salts -- materials thought to make up the cloud layers of brown dwarfs.
Kepler-7b (left), which is 1.5 times the radius of Jupiter (right), is the first exoplanet to have its clouds mapped. The cloud map was produced using data from NASA's Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes. The map shows that clouds cover the western side of the gaseous planet, leaving the east cloud-free. Researchers speculate the clouds are made up of minerals containing silicates. Kepler-7b is one of the puffiest, or least dense, planets known. While it is 1.5 times the size of Jupiter is has only about half the mass.
Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have detected what they believe is an alien world just two-thirds the size of Earth - one of the smallest on record. The exoplanet candidate, known as UCF-1.01, orbits a star called GJ 436, which is located a mere 33 light-years away. UCF-1.01 might be the nearest world to our solar system that is smaller than our home planet. Although probably rocky in composition like Earth, UCF-1.01 would be a terrible place for life. The world orbits scorchingly close to its star, so in all likelihood this planet lacks an atmosphere and might even have a molten surface, as shown in this artist's impression. Evidence for UCF-1.01 turned up when astronomers were studying a known, Neptune-sized exoplanet, called GJ 436b, seen in the background in this image. The identification of nearby small planets may lead to their characterization using future instruments. In this way, worlds like UCF-1.01 might serve as stepping stones to one day finding a habitable, Earth-like exoplanet. Because of GJ 436's proximity to our solar system, the star field around it shares many of our culture's famous cosmic landmarks. To the far left, the constellation of Orion gleams, though in a distorted shape compared to our vantage point on Earth. The red giant Betelgeuse (Orion's right shoulder) and blue Rigel (Orion's left foot) stand out, as well as the three belt stars. From GJ 436's perspective, however, the stars do not align as they do in our sky. The Pleiades star cluster is located to the upper left of UCF-1.01.
This graphic illuminates the process by which astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have for the first time detected the light from a super Earth planet. The planet 55 Cancri e orbits very closely to its star, and no current telescope can make an image of it separate from its star. Instead astronomers watch the combined light of the system over time, looking for slight drops in the total light that hint at the existence of planets. Planets like 55 Cancri e are first identified when they "transit," or pass in front of, their star. This blocks a portion of the star's light that is proportional to the size of the planet. Detecting the light from the planet is much harder. When the planet passes behind its star (an "occultation"), there is a slight dip in the total light that corresponds to the light from the planet itself. In visible light this dip is expected to be tiny, only a few parts per million. In infrared light the thermal glow of the planet is much brighter, making the occultation easier to detect. This infrared occultation has been detected by Spitzer, giving astronomers the first-ever measurement of the light from such a small planet (about twice the size of the Earth). Such measurements help astronomers determine conditions on the planet itself.
This artist's conception illustrates a storm of comets around a star near our own, called Eta Corvi. Evidence for this barrage comes from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, whose infrared detectors picked up indications that one or more comets was recently torn to shreds after colliding with a rocky body. In this artist's conception, one such giant comet is shown smashing into a rocky planet, flinging ice- and carbon-rich dust into space, while also smashing water and organics into the surface of the planet. A glowing red flash captures the moment of impact on the planet. Yellow-white Eta Corvi is shown to the left, with still more comets streaming toward it. Spitzer detected spectral signatures of water ice, organics and rock around Eta Corvi -- key ingredients of comets. This is the first time that evidence for such a comet storm has been seen around another star. Eta Corvi is just about the right age, about one billion years old, to be experiencing a bombardment of comets akin to what occurred in our own solar system at 600 to 800 millions years of age, termed the Late Heavy Bombardment. Scientists say the Late Heavy Bombardment was triggered in our solar system by the migration of our outer planets, which jostled icy comets about, sending some of them flying inward. The incoming comets scarred our moon and pummeled our inner planets. They may have even brought materials to Earth that helped kick start life.
This artists concept contrasts our familiar Earth with the exceptionally strange planet known as 55 Cancri e. While it is only about twice the size of the Earth, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has gathered surprising new details about this supersized and superheated world. Astronomers first discovered 55 Cancri e in 2004, and continued investigation of the exoplanet has shown it to be a truly bizarre place. The world revolves around its sun-like star in the shortest time period of all known exoplanets just 17 hours and 40 minutes. (In other words, a year on 55 Cancri e lasts less than 18 hours.) The exoplanet orbits about 26 times closer to its star than Mercury, the most Sun-kissed planet in our solar system. Such proximity means that 55 Cancri e's surface roasts at a minimum of 3,200 degrees Fahrenheit (1,760 degrees Celsius). The new observations with Spitzer reveal 55 Cancri e to have a mass 7.8 times and a radius just over twice that of Earth. Those properties place 55 Cancri e in the "super-Earth" class of exoplanets, a few dozen of which have been found. However, what makes this world so remarkable is the resulting low density derived from these measurements. The Spitzer results suggest that about a fifth of the planet's mass must be made of light elements and compounds, including water. In the intense heat of 55 Cancri e's terribly close sun, those light materials would exist in a "supercritical" state, between that of a liquid and a gas, and might sizzle out of the planet's surface. Only a handful of known super-Earths, however, cross the face of their stars as viewed from our vantage point in the cosmos. At just 40 light years away, 55 Cancri e stands as the smallest transiting super-Earth in our stellar neighborhood. In fact, 55 Cancri is so bright and close that it can be seen with the naked eye on a clear, dark night.
This artist's conception depicts the Kepler-10 star system, located about 560 light-years away near the Cygnus and Lyra constellations. Kepler has discovered two planets around this star. Kepler-10b is, to date, the smallest known rocky exoplanet, or planet outside our solar system (dark spot against yellow sun). This planet, which has a radius of 1.4 times that of Earth's, whips around its star every .8 days. Its discovery was announced in Jan. 2011. Now, in May 2011, the Kepler team is announcing another member of the Kepler-10 family, called Kepler-10c (larger foreground object). It's bigger than Kepler-10b with a radius of 2.2 times that of Earth's, and it orbits the star every 45 days. Both planets would be blistering hot worlds. Kepler-10c was first identified by Kepler, and later validated using a combination of a computer simulation technique called "Blender," and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Both of these methods are powerful ways to validate the Kepler planets that are too small and faraway for ground-based telescopes to confirm using the radial-velocity technique. The Kepler team says that a large fraction of their discoveries will be validated with both of these methods. In the case of Kepler-10c, scientists can be 99.998 percent sure that the signal they detected is from an orbiting planet. Part of this confidence comes from the fact that Spitzer, an infrared observatory, saw a signal similar to what Kepler detected in visible light. If the signal were coming from something other than an orbiting planet -- for example an indistinguishable background pair of orbiting stars -- then scientists would expect to see different signals in visible and infrared light.
This artist's concept shows the searing-hot gas planet WASP-12b (orange orb) and its star. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope discovered that the planet has more carbon than oxygen, making it the first carbon-rich planet ever observed. Our planet Earth has relatively little amounts of carbon -- it is made largely of oxygen and silicon. Other gas planets in our solar system, for example Jupiter, are expected to have less carbon than oxygen, but this is not known. Unlike WASP-12b, these planets harbor water, the main oxygen carrier, deep in their atmospheres, where it is difficult to measure. Concentrated carbon can take the form of diamond, so astronomers say that carbon-rich gas planets could have abundant diamond in their interiors. WASP-12b is located roughly 1,200 light-years away in the constellation Auriga. It swings around its star every 1.1 days. Because the planet is so close to its star, the star's gravity stretches it slightly into an egg shape. The star's gravity also pulls material off the planet into a disk around the star (shown here in transparent, white hues).
This plot of data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope indicates the presence of molecules in the planet WASP-12b -- a super-hot gas giant that orbits tightly around its star. Spitzer measurements suggest this planet's atmosphere has carbon monoxide, excess methane, and not much water vapor. The results demonstrate that WASP-12b is the first known carbon-rich planet. Spitzer made these measurements as the planet circled behind the star, in an event called the secondary eclipse. The telescope collected the infrared light from the star and the planet, then just the star as the planet disappeared behind the star. This allowed astronomers to calculate the amount of infrared light coming solely from the planet. The observations were performed at four different wavelengths of infrared light. These data were then combined with previously reported measurements taken by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii, at shorter infrared wavelengths to create this plot. The yellow dots show the data, along with the observational uncertainties. The blue curve is a model of the planet's light, or spectrum, showing the fingerprints of chemicals in the atmosphere. The blue dots represent the blue model curve averaged to cover the same wavelengths as the data, as shown by the gray lines at the bottom of the plot.
NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has found that the hottest part of a distant planet, named upsilon Andromedae b, is not under the glare of its host star as might be expected. Instead, the planet's hot spot -- illustrated here in this artist's concept in brighter, orange hues -- is more than 80 degrees to the side, closer to the dark side of the planet. The planet is a hot gas giant that whips around its star every 4.6 days. Because it is so close to its star, it is tidally locked, meaning that one side is eternally bombarded by the star's radiation. The other dark side never sees the light of day. Astronomers are scratching their heads as to why the planet's hot material is found so far over to the side.
This graph of data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows how astronomers located a hot spot on a distant gas planet named upsilon Andromedae b -- and learned that it was in the wrong place. This planet -- termed an exoplanet because it orbits a star beyond our sun -- whips around very closely to its star. It is tidally locked, meaning that one side always faces the star. One might think the hottest point of the planet would be smack dab in the middle of this sun-facing side, but previous research has shown that exoplanet hot spots can be offset, or over to the side, by up to 30 degrees. This plot shows that the hot spot on upsilon Andromedae b is even farther over to the side -- a whopping 80 degrees. Astronomers figured this out by measuring the total infrared light of the planet and star, as the planet orbits around. (The planet is not transiting or crossing in front of its star, so it doesn't block the star's light.) When the hot spot faces Earth, the total brightness of the system will go up, as measured by Spitzer's heat-seeking, infrared eyes. The black line shows what the system's light variations, or light curve, would look like if the hot spot were in the middle of the sun-facing side of the planet. The yellow line shows what was actually observed: the light curve is offset by 80 degrees, indicating that the hot spot is, oddly, almost all the way over the side. Astronomers are not sure how this can be.
An unusual, methane-free world is partially eclipsed by its star in this artist's concept. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has found evidence that a hot, Neptune-sized planet orbiting a star beyond our sun lacks methane -- an ingredient common to many planets in our own solar system. Models of planetary atmospheres indicate that any world with the common mix of hydrogen, carbon and oxygen, and a temperature up to 1,000 Kelvin (1,340 degrees Fahrenheit) should have a large amount of methane and a small amount of carbon monoxide. The planet illustrated here, called GJ 436b is about 800 Kelvin (or 980 degrees Fahrenheit) - it was expected to have methane but Spitzer's observations showed it does not. The finding demonstrates the diversity of exoplanets, and indicates that models of exoplanetary atmospheres need to be revised.
These plots from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope show light from a distant planet, GJ 436b, and its star, as measured at six different infrared wavelengths. Astronomers use telescopes like Spitzer to measure the direct light of distant worlds, called exoplanets, and learn more about chemicals in their atmospheres. The technique involves measuring light from an exoplanet and its star before, during and after the planet circles behind the star. (The technique only works for those planets that happen to cross behind and in front of their stars as seen from our point of view on Earth.) When the planet disappears behind the star, the total light observed drops, as seen by the dips in these light curves. This same measurement is repeated at different wavelengths of light. In this graph, the different wavelengths are on the vertical axis, and time on the horizontal axis. Those dips in the total light tell astronomers exactly how much light is coming from the planet itself. As the data demonstrate, the amount of light coming off a planet changes with different wavelengths. The differences are due to the temperature of a planet as well as its chemical makeup. In this case, astronomers were able to show that GJ 436b lacks the common planetary ingredient of methane.
This artist's conception shows a nearly invisible ring around Saturn -- the largest of the giant planet's many rings. It was discovered by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The ring is so diffuse that it reflects little sunlight, or visible light that we see with our eyes. But its dusty particles shine with infrared light, or heat radiation, that Spitzer can see. The artist's conception simulates an infrared view of the giant ring. Saturn appears as just a small dot from outside the band of ice and dust. The bulk of the ring material starts about six million kilometers (3.7 million miles) away from the planet and extends outward roughly another 12 million kilometers (7.4 million miles). The ring's diameter is equivalent to roughly 300 Saturns lined up side to side. The ring, stars and wispy clouds are an artist's representation.
The basic chemistry for life has been detected in a second hot gas planet, HD 209458b, depicted in this artist's concept. Two of NASA's Great Observatories - the Hubble Space Telescope and Spitzer Space Telescope, yielded spectral observations that revealed molecules of carbon dioxide, methane and water vapor in the planet's atmosphere. HD 209458b, bigger than Jupiter, occupies a tight, 3.5-day orbit around a sun-like star about 150 light years away in the constellation Pegasus. Planets like this one, which circle stars beyond our sun, are called exoplanets. The new finding follows the detection of these same organic molecules in the atmosphere of another hot, giant planet, called HD 189733b, by astronomers using Hubble and Spitzer data. Astronomers can now begin comparing the chemistry and dynamics of these two planets, and search for similar measurements of other candidate exoplanets, advancing toward the goal of being able to characterize planets where life could exist. Neither of the two planets studied is habitable, but they display the same molecules that, if found around a rocky planet in the future, could potentially indicate the presence of life. The new findings pave the way for future work that will help astronomers shortlist any promising rocky Earth-like planets where the signatures of organic chemicals might indicate the presence of life.
This picture shows a slice of Saturn's largest ring, as seen in infrared light by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The observatory viewed the ring edge-on from its Earth-trailing orbit around the sun. It detected the infrared light, or heat, form the ring's dusty material. The ring has a diameter equivalent to 300 Saturns lined up side to side. And it's thick too -- about 20 Saturns could fit into its vertical height. The ring is tilted about 27 degrees from Saturn's main ring plane. The Spitzer data were taken by its multiband imaging photometer and show infrared light with a wavelength of 24 microns.
This diagram highlights a slice of Saturn's largest ring. The ring (red band in inset photo) was discovered by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, which detected infrared light, or heat, from the dusty ring material. Spitzer viewed the ring edge-on from its Earth-trailing orbit around the sun. The ring has a diameter equivalent to 300 Saturns lined up side to side. And it's thick too -- about 20 Saturns could fit into its vertical height. The ring is tilted about 27 degrees from Saturn's main ring plane. The Spitzer data were taken by its multiband imaging photometer and show infrared light with a wavelength of 24 microns. The picture of Saturn was taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
Displaying images 31 - 60 of 92 in total