Sometimes Astronomy is Jaw Dropping – maybe all the time #astronomy #space #exoplanet #astrophysics #spacetelescope #NASA

That’s the star – dead center. Looks a lot like any other star in visible light.

Astronomers have spotted water vapor and evidence of exotic clouds in the atmosphere of an alien planet [HAT-P-26b]… about 430 light-years away from Earth.

How’d they do that!?

Sing, Wakeford and their colleagues analyzed observations made by NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes when HAT-P-26b crossed its parent star’s face from the telescopes’ perspectives. The planet’s atmosphere filtered out certain wavelengths of starlight during these “transits,” allowing the study team to identify some of the molecules swirling in HAT-P-26b’s air.

I have to wonder how many photons that passed through HAT-P-26b’s atmosphere made it to Earth – to capture and analyze that tiny amount of data is awesome. The planet’s atmosphere is mostly hydrogen and helium, but it’s the trace elements that are most fascinating. The planet doesn’t fit the pattern we see in our own solar system regarding planet size, distance for the star, and composition.

There’s so much to learn, and our tiny sample size of one solar system isn’t nearly enough to figure it all out. If you’re wondering what difference it makes – well, it won’t change what I eat for breakfast tomorrow. I’ve never regretted learning something, even if it didn’t put a penny in my pocket. If we don’t look up at the stars how will we ever get out of the mud?

Here’s one description based on HAT-P-26b’s atmospheric composition to marvel at as you look up.

This would be a very alien sky… you’d see a kind of scattery, washed-out, gray sky.

Of course, when working on the edge of detection it’s easy to get things wrong. But a staggering amount of data is rolling in, many researchers are busy, and even more amazing telescopes are in the works – hypotheses will turn into theories.

It’s only getting better.

PS: Oddly enough, I had trouble finding an easy source to tell me where in Earth’s sky HAT-P-26b’s star is located – not that I expect to see it with my eyes, but it seems like a fun thing to know. I think I found the coordinates: RA = 14:12:37.5, DE = +04:03:36. Those are the coordinates I used to get the image above. And according to my trusty W. Tirion Sky Atlas 2000.0, that puts it in the constellation of Virgo. But I’m a bit rusty – can anyone confirm or correct me?

Fascinating Light Curves Conquer Mystery of Exoplanets #star #space #astronomy #poem #poetry

Bingo! A planet!

Bingo! A planet!

Search for exoplanets –
such a romantic story.
Find other globes round other stars
a feat that’s extrasensory.

For it’s beyond a human eye
to view transits ephemeris.
Telescopes and cameras
are what we need to see this.

A light curve like a trail of dust
blown through a window crack,
or scattered grains of sand
dribbled from a carried sack.

A blur of readings suddenly
drops down a tiny bit.
Almost imperceptibly
a planet is, in photons, writ.

You can see beyond your eyes
and hear beyond your ears,
and reach beyond your outstretched hands
to mysteries like these.

by Kate Rauner

Learn more at wikipedia and find one of the latest discoveries at

rr-3-coversAll my books, including collections of my science-inspired poetry, are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and other major online retailers. You’ll also find paperbacks at Create Space and all major digital formats at Smashwords. Read one today.

Exotic Weather Far Away #star #Hubble #space #weather

Jupiter has its Great Red Spot
And now we find it’s clear,
There’s a bigger storm on a bigger world
A thousand light-years near.

How Jupiter may compare in size

How Jupiter may compare in size

Careening round its own star,
Locked to face one way,
It blows impressive winds from
Endless night side to always day.

Its clouds are flecked with minerals,
With rubies and sapphires.
If you think you’d die to go,
You would indeed expire.

Around the star HAT P dash seven,
In the constellation of the Swan,
Gems ride on sparkling winds
Round a planet with no dawn.
By Kate Rauner

Thanks to for their article on a giant planet with jeweled clouds.

rr-3-coversAll my books, including collections of my science-inspired poetry, are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and other major online retailers. You’ll also find paperbacks at Create Space and all major digital formats at Smashwords. Read one today.


Amazon link to my poetry:


Closest Star Has Planet With Earthiness #star #space #tech #science

The two bright stars are (left) α Centauri and (right) β Centauri. The faint red star in the center of the red circle is Proxima Centauri. - the planet has been detected using spectrographs

The two bright stars are (left) α Centauri and (right) β Centauri. The faint red star in the center of the red circle is Proxima Centauri. – the planet has been detected using spectrographs

The closest star to Earth’s Sun, called Proxima Centauri, is a relatively faint and cool red dwarf. It doesn’t seem a promising place to look for a second home for humanity – but, surprise!

It seems to have a rocky planet a bit bigger than Earth, with a “year” that’s 11.2 days long. It’s a lot closer to its star than Earth to the Sun, but because the star is cool, it gets about 2/3 the light and heat Earth does. It could have liquid water.

This is HUGE news: Astronomers have found a planet orbiting the Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun! Holy wow. Seriously. Wow.” [Bad Astronomy]

If it has an atmosphere and if that atmosphere has CO2 and if that atmosphere isn’t toxic – it might possibly support earth-like life. But not life with technology like ours – SETI has listened to Proxima and heard nothing exciting.

Close is relative in the galaxy – Proxima is 40 trillion kilometers away. That’s about 4 light years and we have no way to travel at near-light speed. But maybe we can get close enough for a mission to fit within a human lifetime.

Aided by famed physicist Steven Hawking, billionaire Yuri Milner is prepared to send probes – teeny-tiny probes.

Instead of sending one big expensive machine, you can send hundreds of these. Interstellar medium is dangerous. There are dust particles that can destroy your technology… a grain of dust, only a hundredth of a millimeter big, could completely destroy [a single probe]. At the rate and distance it’d be traveling, 30 percent of the craft would be eaten away by dust before it got there.” [Popular Science]

Propelled by a tiny light sail receiving a laser beam from Earth (or from Earth orbit) each probe could build up to a decent 20% of light speed.

Of course, there’s nothing at Proxima to slow the probes down, so this would be a

Flyby mission. You go for 20 years, and you have about 1 day to take your measurements [and] a few years to send the images back.” [Popular Science]

Promor for Lost in Space, scifi TV show that sent settlers to Proxima Centauri's partner star Alpha Centauri - see fair use via link

Promo for Lost in Space, scifi/fantasy TV show that sent settlers to Proxima Centauri’s partner star Alpha Centauri – see fair use via link

While we wait for this billionaire’s hobby-probes to take flight, I’m hopeful telescopes will eventually see if there’s a faint fuzziness to the planet which could indicate an atmosphere. That would encourage exploration. Maybe some future teeny-tiny probes could be big enough to carry breaking engines and enter orbit. There’s no reason to wait for the first probes to arrive before launching a second and third generation – if the billionaire’s money holds out.

I may never see such probes fly – but like Bad Astronomy says: Wow.

Thanks Bad_Astronomy and Popular Science.

What If Search for ET Found Us? #SETI #alien #science #space

Now that we know how to look for exoplanets… maybe we know how ExoPlanetCandidates-20150723intelligent aliens are looking for us.

Astronomers suggest that future searches focus on that part of the sky in which distant observers can notice the yearly transit of Earth in front of the Sun… Observers in this zone could have discovered Earth with the same techniques that are used by terrestrial astronomers to discover and characterize exoplanets.

This wouldn’t solve any of the barriers to communication – mostly the vast distances involved and the huge transmission lag, even for signals at the speed of light. I’m not sure if it would be exciting or terribly sad to know there was an Earth-like planet out there that we can see and can see us, but we can’t exchange a “hello.”

Could Kepler have found #aliens? For real?! :D

That's a lot of data

That’s a lot of data

Kepler Space Telescope has been watching 150,000 stars – seeking the slight dimming and brightening patterns that indicate orbiting planets. But maybe, possibly, they found something more exciting.

Citizen Scientists Better than Computer Algorithm
“Since human eyes and minds are unsurpassed in certain sorts of pattern recognition, citizen scientists from Planet Hunters examine the data. They’ve found a weird pattern that suggests a big mess of matter circling the star, in tight formation.”

After discarding various possibilities, the only natural explanation is that a second star passed recently (as the universe considers time) and sent a flood of comets inwards. Which still seems unlikely.

This opens the door to other unlikely suggestions.

Researchers involved with SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) “long suggested that we might be able to detect distant extraterrestrial civilizations by looking for enormous technological artifacts orbiting other stars… The unusual star’s light pattern is consistent with a ‘swarm of megastructures,’ perhaps stellar-light collectors, technology designed to catch energy from the star.” Not quite a Dyson Sphere, but maybe a step towards it.

SETI plans to point a radio telescope at the unusual star to listen for signals consistent with technological activity, and to follow up with the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico if anything sounds promising.

OMG – could it happen in my lifetime?
Could I know, for sure, we are not alone?

I get chills, which is appropriate. Assuming all goes well, the first observation would take place in January – my North American winter. Until then I can only watch dark space near Cygnus – the star is too faint to see naked-eye – and wonder.

Thanks to

Or not

Born of Earth and Jupiter – a #poem by Kate Rauner

zeiss projector

Zeiss projectors, like this one at Kiev Planetarium, allow planetarium visitors to see a scientist’s view of the solar system and the universe.

Two thousand planets have been found
By our current generation.
Five hundred systems, like our own,
Escaped their sun’s damnation.
Most planets are much closer
To their stars and therefore hotter,
With a thousand times thicker air
Than the Sun’s rocky daughters.
And super-Earths are common,
Ten times larger than our own.
Perhaps with days that equal years,
So different from our home.
Most gaseous giant planets
Orbit their stars nearer.
Why we have no super-Earth
At last emerges clearer.
The proto-Jupiter that formed,
To proto-Earth was hostile.
And, five billion years ago,
It stole away our volatiles.
It scrambled inner rocky worlds
And smashed the proto-Earth to bits;
Tossed half of it into the Sun,
The rest then reformed planets.
This left our world, our remnant Earth,
Thinly veiled in wispy air.
Self-organizing, growing life
Could then arise and evolve there.
Surviving heat and pressures vast,
Life on extra-solar worlds
May not resemble any forms
That upon our Earth unfurled.
We may not discern our distant kin
Nor understand life’s game.
It’s hard enough to love our own
And we are all the same.

Kevin J. Walsh and his colleagues detail their findings this week in the journal Nature. “A wandering Jupiter may have wreaked havoc on the large inner planets of our early solar system, leaving behind an apparently rare configuration of planets.” [] Whether that rareness holds up as we develop way to discover smaller planets remains to be seen.