This artist’s concept illustrates a young, red dwarf star surrounded by three planets. Such stars are dimmer and smaller than yellow stars like our sun, which makes them ideal targets for astronomers wishing to take images of planets outside our solar system, called exoplanets.
Is now the third year of the Royal Observatory’s competition to uncover the best photographs of stars, planets, galaxies and more. They received nearly 800 entries from astronomers around the world – that’s nearly double the number they received last year! Picture above: Hunting Moon by Jean-Baptiste Feldmann (France) -People and Space: runner-up
Astronomers using ESO’s world-leading exoplanet hunter HARPS have today announced a rich haul of more than 50 new exoplanets, including 16 super-Earths, one of which orbits at the edge of the habitable zone of its star. By studying the properties of all the HARPS planets found so far, the team has found that about 40% of stars similar to the Sun have at least one planet lighter than Saturn.
Our solar system, where planets have a range of sizes and move in near-circular paths, may be rather unusual, according to a German-British team led by Professor Pavel Kroupa of the University of Bonn. The astronomers, who publish their model in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, find that forming planetary systems may be knocked around by crashes with nearby clumps of material, leading to systems where planets have highly inclined orbits and where the smaller (and potentially habitable) worlds are thrown out completely.
Astronomers, including a NASA-funded team member, have discovered a new class of Jupiter-sized planets floating alone in the dark of space, away from the light of a star. The team believes these lone worlds were probably ejected from developing planetary systems.
In the morning of 1 May 2011, about an hour before sunrise, five of our Solar System’s eight planets and the Moon could be seen from Paranal. The four planets in the sky were Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter, and they were joined by the crescent Moon to create this wonderful photo opportunity of a planetary conjunction — two or more celestial bodies seen near each other in the sky, usually from the Earth.
It’s no accident that we see stars in the sky, says famed Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins: they are a vital part of any universe capable of generating us. But, as Dawkins emphasizes, that does not mean that stars exists in order to make us.