Compared to the age of the solar system — about four-and-a-half billion years — a couple of decades are next to nothing. Some planetary locales change little over many millions of years, so for scientists who study the planets, any object that evolves on such a short interval makes for a tempting target for study. And so it is with the ever-changing rings of Saturn. (more…)
Tag Archives: planets
ANN ARBOR — A comet-bound spacecraft that’s been in sleep mode for more than two years is scheduled to wake up on the morning of Jan. 20—beginning the home stretch of its decade-long journey to a mile-wide ball of rock, dust and ice.
If all goes as planned, Rosetta—a European Space Agency-led mission that involves University of Michigan engineers and scientists—will be the first craft to actually land on a comet as well as track it for an extended period of time. (more…)
Chondrules may have formed from high-pressure collisions in early solar system
At issue is how numerous small, glassy spherules had become embedded within specimens of the largest class of meteorites—the chondrites. British mineralogist Henry Sorby first described these spherules, called chondrules, in 1877. Sorby suggested that they might be “droplets of fiery rain” which somehow condensed out of the cloud of gas and dust that formed the solar system 4.5 billion years ago. (more…)
While astronomers now know that exoplanets are exceedingly common in the galaxy, the mechanics by which they are formed aren’t well understood. Planetary childhood remains a mystery.
Young stars start out with a massive disk of gas and dust that over time, astronomers think, either diffuses away or coalesces into planets and asteroids.
“The speculation is that as planets form they clear out a region of gas and dust around them, forming a telltale ‘gap’ in the disk”, said Stefan Kraus, from Physics and Astronomy at the University of Exeter. (more…)
Berkeley Lab’s Chemical Dynamics Beamline points to why isotope ratios in interplanetary dust and meteorites differ from Earth’s
By studying the origins of different isotope ratios among the elements that make up today’s smorgasbord of planets, moons, comets, asteroids, and interplanetary ice and dust, Mark Thiemens and his colleagues hope to learn how our solar system evolved. Thiemens, Dean of the Division of Physical Sciences at the University of California, San Diego, has worked on this problem for over three decades.
In recent years his team has found the Chemical Dynamics Beamline of the Advanced Light Source (ALS) at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) to be an invaluable tool for examining how photochemistry determines the basic ingredients in the solar system recipe. (more…)
PASADENA, Calif. — NASA’s Kepler mission scientists have discovered a new planetary system that is home to the smallest planet yet found around a star similar to our sun.
The planets are located in a system called Kepler-37, about 210 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lyra. The smallest planet, Kepler-37b, is slightly larger than our moon, measuring about one-third the size of Earth. It is smaller than Mercury, which made its detection a challenge. (more…)
Look up at the night sky and you’ll see stars, sure. But the sky is also filled with planets — billions and billions of them at least.
That’s the conclusion of a new study by astronomers at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, which provides yet more evidence that planetary systems are the cosmic norm. The team made their estimate while analyzing planets orbiting a star called Kepler-32 — planets that are representative, they say, of the vast majority of planets in our galaxy and thus serve as a perfect case study for understanding how most of these worlds form. (more…)
Astronomers find planets in strange places and wonder if they might support life. One such place would be in orbit around a white or brown dwarf. While neither is a star like the sun, both glow and so could be orbited by planets with the right ingredients for life.
No terrestrial, or Earth-like planets have yet been confirmed orbiting white or brown dwarfs, but there is no reason to assume they don’t exist. However, new research by Rory Barnes of the University of Washington and René Heller of Germany’s Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam hints that planets orbiting white or brown dwarfs will prove poor candidates for life. (more…)