Exoplanets

Some exoplanets seem to have walked directly out of the best science fiction movies. We’ve discovered single exoplanets orbiting two stars and as many as seven exoplanets orbiting a single star. We’ve probed the planet-forming disks that spawn these alien worlds, and we’re even starting to map the weather weather on these distant planets.

Here Sky & Telescope offers the latest exoplanet news, from super-Earths to hot Jupiters. We’ll continue monitoring results from the Kepler mission, the Hubble Space Telescope, and more to come as astronomers come up with new and creative methods for studying these alien worlds. The hunt for Earth 2.0 is on as we attempt to answer the age-old question: “are we alone?”

This artist's conception shows the inner four planets of the Gliese 581 system and their host star, a red dwarf star only 20 light years away from Earth. The large planet in the foreground is the newly discovered GJ 581g, which has a 37-day orbit right in the middle of the star's habitable zone and is only three to four times the mass of Earth, with a diameter 1.2 to 1.4 times that of Earth.
Lynette Cook

Do Atmospheres Spin Worlds to Habitability?

The best place to look for nearby Earth-size planets are around the smallest, coolest stars. New research shows that any exoplanets tightly circling their stars might have a better chance of being habitable than previously thought.

This artist’s conception shows a terrestrial exoplanet, a gas giant and a mid-sized gas dwarf. Image credit: J. Jauch.

Three Exoplanet Molds: Metals Matter

Data from NASA's Kepler space telescope point to three distinct molds of exoplanets — rocky worlds, gas dwarfs, and ice/gas giants — distinguishable based on the abundances of heavy elements in their host star’s atmosphere.

This artist's concept illustrates two planetary systems - 55 Cancri (top) and our own. Blue lines show the orbits of planets, including the dwarf planet Pluto in our solar system. The 55 Cancri system is currently the closest known analogue to our solar system, yet there are some fundamental differences.
NASA / JPL-Caltech

Planets’ Wacky Orbits Solved

By combining nearly 1,500 observations with sophisticated computer models, astronomers have shed light on a nearby planetary system, proving that the planets' bizarre orbits will actually remain stable for the next 100 million years.

kepler186f_artists_1000

Most “Earth-Like” Planet Found Yet

The newly discovered planet, Kepler-186f, is the first Earth-size exoplanet circling in its star’s habitable zone. The media worldwide is gleaming with fantastical headlines, but readers in the know may have an inkling the result is less than it seems.

An artist's conception of the debris disk around Beta Pictoris.

A Chaotic Planet-Forming Disk

A new map of Beta Pictoris reveals an asymmetric clump of carbon monoxide likely produced in cometary collisions. It provides a rare glimpse at the chaotic birth of a planetary system.

brown dwarf

Red Sky for Brown Dwarf

Astronomers have discovered a new “failed star” with unusually red, dusty skies. The dust makes the object look much younger than it actually is, complicating studies of this type of brown dwarf.

Cloudy Super-Earth

Weather on Alien Worlds

From high-altitude clouds discovered on a super-Earth to massive, hurricane-force storms on a nearby brown dwarf, a bevy of results show that the age of “astrometeorology” is upon us.