Category Archives: Astronomy

How we detected water on a potentially habitable exoplanet for the first time

Angelos Tsiaras, UCL

With more than 4,000 exoplanets – planets orbiting stars other than our sun – discovered so far, it may seem like we are on the cusp of finding out whether we are alone in the universe. Sadly though, we don’t know much about these planets – in most cases just their mass and their radius.

Understanding whether a planet could host life requires a lot more information. At the moment, one extremely important piece of information that is missing is the presence, composition, and structure of their atmospheres. Signs of atmospheric water, oxygen and methane would all be signs that a planet may support life.

Now we have for the first time managed to detect water vapour in the atmosphere of an exoplanet that is potentially habitable. Our results have been published in Nature Astronomy.

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The end of the world: a history of how a silent cosmos led humans to fear the worst

Thomas Moynihan, University of Oxford

It is 1950 and a group of scientists are walking to lunch against the majestic backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. They are about to have a conversation that will become a scientific legend. The scientists are at the Los Alamos Ranch School, the site for the Manhattan Project, where each of the group has lately played their part in ushering in the atomic age.

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Saturn on steroids: J1407b

If you read Isaac Asimov’s 1986 novel “Foundation and Earth”, you’ll remember how the main characters of the book (Councilman Golan Trevize, historian Janov Pelorat, and Gaian Bliss) were amazed by Saturn’s rings. They were thinking the gas giant with preeminent rings in old stories was just a myth. But after seeing Saturn, they made sure that they found the solar system which contains the Earth, the original home of humanity.

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In space, there really might be no place like home

Few topics in science command as much attention as the discovery of extrasolar planets – those as-yet-unseen worlds, light years beyond our own Sun. In the quest to learn whether we are alone in the cosmos, astronomers are teasing out subtle wobbles and periodic dimmings of distant stars: telltale signs that a planet, much too faint to see directly in telescopes, is nevertheless present.

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NASA has published the map of 4,000 exoplanets

Even as late as 1991, we had no hard evidence of planets existing outside our solar system, known as “exoplanets”. Today, over 4000 exoplanets are known to exist. NASA has published an amazing video-map showing them in the Milky Way galaxy on the Astronomy Picture of the Day website.

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How Earth Could Die – 9 Horrible Ways

Now we’re living on a warm, hospitable planet. As Carl Sagan has said “That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.” We, humans, are the unquestionable rulers of our little oasis in a hostile universe. But all things must pass. The life on Earth, even the planet itself, won’t last forever. What’s more, the humans may go extinct before our planet (and probably before the life on it) dies out. Here some possible (and horrible) ways how planet Earth (or, at least, life on Earth) could die.

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