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 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.

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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.

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Planets Form With Magnetic Storms

Astronomers might have solved an outstanding mystery of why forming planetary systems emit more infrared light than expected. The key lies with gas and dust suspended in giant magnetic loops.

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.

Transiting exoplanet

Putting Exoplanets on the Scale

Astronomers have come up with a new technique for measuring an alien planet’s mass, and therefore its composition and potential habitability, even when standard methods don’t work.

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Kepler Mission Hits 3,500 Candidates

The Kepler team has released its analysis of the mission’s first three years of observations. The haul includes 10 Earth-size (and probably rocky) exoplanets in their stars’ habitable zones, and the stats show such planets are common.

Multiplanet system

A Bite-Size Planetary System

Planet Hunters citizen-science program identifies 14 exoplanet candidates the Kepler mission missed, including a seventh planet in a known system, making it the first seven-planet system discovered.