Tiny planet spotted, 3x as distant as Pluto


Astronomers have spied a cold world three times as distant from the Sun as Pluto. Read the rest

500 exoplanets to scale in a single image

Credit: unknown

One day, rich people will visit these worlds! This spectacular poster is the work of Martin Vargic: buy prints at his site.

P.S. latest doppler inferences indicate that planets depicted with of earthlike oceans and atmospheres may contain enormous quantities of halite.

[via] Read the rest

Beautiful footage of Jupiter


Jupiter is more beautiful than ever in this footage from NASA, as used by Adrienne Lafrance to illustrate her splendid article about the gas giant.

rom far away, the planet looks vaguely beige. But its clouds are a kaleidoscope of warm colors—alternately red, orange, pink, and tan, with some blue. That may be the effect of sunlight breaking down chemicals like ammonia, but scientists aren’t sure. “We still don't know what makes the clouds the colors they are,” Simon said. “Another thing we don’t know is: Why the storms last so long.”

In the future, the people who live around Jupiter are going to be really smug, aren't they?

Its reputation was once not so grand, Lafrance adds in a follow-up that astronomers used to find the painterly, swirling surface quite unpleasant.

It was generally hoped that, in couse [sic] of time, this much respected orb would see the error of his ways, and cease to assume the appearance of an inebriated planet.

Sad to relate, however, he has gone from bad to worse, and is just now showing, side by side with the red spot complained of, a number of white ones, which give his countenance an appearance truly sad to behold. No wonder that quiet, staid astronomers, who, from joking, stand aghast at such an exhibition.

Read the rest

Tajikistan creates planet, names it after self


A central asian nation may have no easy path to the sea, but its future among the stars is assured—at least in its dreams.

Tajikistan's state new agency reports [translate] that the country has named "one of the small planets of the solar system" for itself, but did not specify exactly which one, or how it will come to be "between Mars and Jupiter" and have an orbital revolution equivalent to the 5-year term of the national parliamentary assembly.

According to the press release, the name was affirmed by the International Astrophysicists Union.

It was emphasized that the planet Tajikistan is located between the planets Mars and Jupiter, its distance from the Earth is 250 million kilometers, and from the Sun is 463 million kilometers. Tajikistan planet revolves around the sun once every five years.

Now the planet Tajikistan is at a very close distance to Earth and Tajik scholars engaged in the study of its physical and chemical properties, as well as the processes taking place on this planet.

President Emomali Rahmon expressed appreciation for the contribution of the Tajik scientists in the world of astrophysics, and expressed confidence that such valuable achievements require from our scientists and researchers more effort in the interests of the state and the nation, as well as all mankind.

Eurasianet suspects that "there are some unexplained aspects to the story."

For instance, the International Astrophysicists Union, if it indeed exists, appears to have no online presence. And were it a real organization, it would be rather odd for it to be getting into the business of naming planets, since that might be considered more strictly the domain of astronomers.

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First near-Earth-size planet in “habitable zone” around sun-like star confirmed by NASA

This artist's concept compares Earth (left) to the new planet, called Kepler-452b, which is about 60 percent larger in diameter. NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle
Space truth, more awesome than fiction.

National Geographic's Pluto issue, autographed by NASA's New Horizons team

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“How cool is this?”

NASA Ground team stands by for Pluto fly-by confirmation signal from New Horizons

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is expected to radio home any minute now. We're watching on NASA TV. The moment will end a nearly 22-hour radio blackout as the probe focused on a series of close-up observations of Pluto and its moons.

From SpaceFlight Now:

Engineers expect to lock on to a carrier signal, then start receiving housekeeping data on the status of the New Horizons spacecraft. No science data will come down during Tuesday night’s pass.

“The reason why you’re not seeing more things immediately is because the spacecraft is spending all its time making the observations of the Pluto system,” says Hal Weaver, New Horizons’ project sciences from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. “That’s what we wanted to do. Of course, you want to optimize the scientific return from the mission.

A signal from New Horizons will be a celebratory moment for the hundreds of engineers and scientists working on the mission. The cessation of communications was part of the plan going into the flyby because New Horizons carries a fixed antenna, meaning mission managers have to choose between contacting Earth and conducting scientific work at Pluto.

Watch live: Ground team standing by for New Horizons signal

Clyde William Tombaugh (February 4, 1906 – January 17, 1997) was an American astronomer. Although he is best known for discovering the dwarf planet Pluto in 1930. Read the rest

Pluto and other known “not-planets” in our solar system mapped in scale image montage

Montage by Emily Lakdawalla.
“Their non-planetary status is a handicap because these are the worlds that we need to get Earthlings excited about exploring.”

eBay forbids woman from selling property on the Sun


Alex Boese has a great article on About Entertainment on the history of people who claimed ownership of stars, moons, and planets and then sold deeds to plots of land on the heavenly bodies. And they had buyers!

In 2013, Maria Angeles Duran began selling plots of land on eBay. That, in itself, isn't unusual, but the land she was selling was located on the sun. She offered square-meter plots for the price of 1 euro each. By 2015, she had over 600 buyers, but then eBay pulled the plug on her, saying her auctions violated its "intangible goods" policy.

Duran didn't take this lying down. She sued the auction site for violation of contract, arguing that the sun is, indeed, a tangible object, and a Spanish court agreed to hear her case.

The Weird News Guide to Extraterrestrial Real Estate: Meet the people who own the sun, moon, and all planets everywhere Read the rest

The crazy storm on Saturn

Fun fact: Saturn has a storm that's every bit as big as Jupiter's better-known Great Red Spot. It's been spinning over Saturn's north pole for 30 years. And it's shaped like a hexagon. Read the rest

The planets as anthropomorphic characters

Alberta College of Art and Design student Mary, AKA Thoughts Up North, created these fantastical characters based on the planets of our solar system: "The colors are all based off the planets’ true colors, and the designs are a mix of the names’ mythos and Holst’s “The Planets” suite. They get progressively less human the further they are from the Sun, which I thought was fun." Pictured above are Mercury, Venus and Earth; Mars is gonna be everyone's favorite. Pluto fans will be delighted at its inclusion--maybe. [via Metafilter] Read the rest

The least desirable addresses in the Universe

Can I interest you in a summer home on COROT-7b? Sure, the estimated surface temperature is 4,580 degrees F, the year is only 20 hours long, and it's probably just lousy with volcanoes. But, when it rains on COROT-7b, it rains rocks. No takers? Just in case, you should check out Lee Billings' slideshow on fantastically horrible planets. Read the rest

"Definitive proof" of Mars water

Mars' landscape was formed by flowing water, and the proof is in the pebbles. [BBC] Read the rest

Kepler 62, a planetary system like our own

Two of the five planets seen circling a distant star may be capable of supporting life, reports the team operating the Kepler Space Telescope. Relatively close to Earth's size and within their sun's habitable zone, the worlds—1200 light years away—are the most tantalizing yet in a search that began in 2009. [The Atlantic] Read the rest

Space probe Voyager 1 reaches outer edges of solar system

Artist concept of NASA's Voyager spacecraft. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Voyager 1 space craft, which was launched in 1977 to explore outer planets, has entered a new region on its way out of our solar system. It's now more than 11 billion miles (18 billion km) away from Earth and it detected "two distinct and related changes in its environment on August 25, 2012," according to a paper published in Geophysical Research Letters today and reported by Reuters earlier this week. "The probe detected dramatic changes in the levels of two types of radiation, one that stays inside the solar system, the other which comes from interstellar space." Read the rest

The real end of the world

Once again, Earth has not been destroyed in a fiery apocalypse. But, someday, our luck will run out. Be prepared! At The Guardian, Ian Sample and Alok Jha helpfully explain how our universe will one day (finally) be destroyed. The good news: By the time that happens, you'll already be dead. [Watch Ian Sample demonstrate different scenarios for the destruction of Earth] [Watch Alok Jha describe the ultimate fate of the universe] Read the rest

Apparently, planets don't always orbit stars

Because sometimes nature just likes to mess with you, here's CFBDSIR2149. It's an object in space — a relatively nearby object in space, as evidenced by the fact that this is an actual picture of it — and scientists are pretty sure that it's a planet. If they're right, then CFBDSIR2149 is also a "rogue planet", so called because it doesn't actually orbit a star. Seriously. It's just hanging out in space, doing its own thing.

Also, it's not the first time a rogue planet has been identified.

In fact, these things are probably not even particularly rare. A 2011 study published in the journal Nature estimated that rogue planets might even outnumber normal stars by 2-to-1 in the Milky Way Galaxy.

It's worth noting that rogue planets do not seem to be Earth-like. For instance, CFBDSIR2149 is roughly the size of Jupiter and, with an estimated surface temperature of 850 degrees Fahrenheit, it is not exactly a pleasant place for people. As for rogue planets come from: That's a mystery. One of the things that makes CFBDSIR2149 special, according to Phil Plait, is that it's actually close enough to us that we can collect some good data on the thing.

Read Phil Plait's description of CFBDSIR2149 at the Bad Astronomy Blog

Read the research paper announcing the discovery of CFBDSIR2149

Read about rogue planets in a Science News story from last year

Image: CFHT/P. Delorme

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