Transit of Venus 2012: “marvel at the solar system in motion”

As I mentioned back in March, tonight one of the rarest predictable astronomical events will occur – a transit of Venus.  [I’m washing my hair! – Ed]  What hair?  ANYhoo… Since the invention of the greatest human innovation, the telescope, at the beginning of the 17th century, not by Galileo, there have been only 7 such transits.  The next time it will happen will be on 11 December 2117.  Nasa’s Sun-Earth Day website will be providing a live web cast during the more than … Read more

Stargazing, and [exo]planet hunting…

The last three nights saw the return to BBC2 of popular astronomy show Stargazing Live – presented by Brian Cox and Dara O’Briain.  Hopefully it will become, at least, an annual fixture. [Image credit: ESO/Y. Beletsky] The three hour-long programmes are still available, for now, on the iPlayer.  The entertaining ‘after-show’ shows, Back to Earth, appears to be missing are also available. If you’ve been paying attention you’ll have recognised some of the material – for example, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s images … Read more

Kepler-22b: “This is a major milestone on the road to finding Earth’s twin”

By the time its last catalogue of exoplanet candidates was released in February,  Nasa’s Kepler space observatory, launched in March 2009, first light in April 2009, had identified 1,235 planetary candidates – and 54 candidates within the habitable zone. The Kepler team have now identified 2,326 planet candidates – of those, 207 are approximately Earth-size, 680 are super Earth-size, 1,181 are Neptune-size, 203 are Jupiter-size and 55 are larger than Jupiter.  And there are now 48 planet candidates in their star’s habitable zone There … Read more

“Look again at that dot.”

As Curiosity heads to Mars, and Voyager continues to go boldly further than ever, the BBC reports on some speculative assessments of potentially habitable locations elsewhere in the galaxy.  A timely reminder, then, from the Guardian’s GrrlScientist of our pale blue dot in this short video tribute to Carl Sagan. Carl Sagan (1934-1996), Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space [1997: Amazon UK; Amazon US]. From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any … Read more

Of proto- [and exo-] planets. And falling satellites…

Nasa’s Dawn spacecraft remains in orbit around the 530km-wide proto-planet Vesta – the second most massive object in the main asteroid belt.  And they’ve released this cool video constructed from the images they’ve obtained so far. Via JPLnews Here’s an image of the south pole of Vesta from a distance of about 1,700 miles (2,700 kilometers). [Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA] And speaking of exo-planets, scientists using the orbiting Kepler observatory have identifed the first circumbinary planet, the first planet known to definitively orbit two … Read more

“Currently the number of exoplanets stands at close to 600…”

[Image credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser].  As the BBC reported, astronomers using the HARPS spectrograph on the 3.6-metre telescope at the European Southern Observatory [ESO]’s La Silla Observatory in Chile recently announced the discovery of more than 50 new exoplanets orbiting nearby stars, including sixteen super-Earths.  It’s the subject of ESOcast 35: 50 New Exoplanets. From the ESO science release In the eight years since it started surveying stars like the Sun using the radial velocity technique HARPS has been used to discover more … Read more

“Of the 54 new planet candidates found in the habitable zone, five are near Earth-sized.”

The Irish Times has a detailed report noting the confirmed discovery of 6 large exo-planets closely orbiting a star in the system, Kepler-11, approximately 2,000 light years from Earth. Even more remarkable are reports that the Kepler space observatory, launched in March 2009, first light in April 2009, has now identified 1,235 planetary candidates – and 54 candidates within the habitable zone – from the data for 156,453 stars observed from the beginning of the science observations on 2 May through 16 September 2009. From the Nasa … Read more

Searching for exoplanets

With the BBC noting a somewhat speculative report on a newly discovered exoplanet, Wasp 12b, here’s a short informative video from ESA Euronews on the ongoing search for planets beyond our solar system. And here are some previous posts on the topic. Pete Baker

“It’s in the ‘sweet spot’, the Goldilocks Zone…”

If no-one picks up the phone at Gliese 581d, perhaps someone will be at home on the newly discovered Gliese 581g…  aka the “Goldilocks” planet.  Or, indeed, one of the other exo-planets in the, apparently, increasingly populated Gliese 581 system.  But I tend to agree with the quotes in the level-headed Tom Chivers blog at the Daily Telegraph Dr Lewis Dartnell, a UCL astrobiologist who specialises in the possibility of microbial life on Mars, says that it’s “undeniably very, very exciting”, but it’s … Read more