NASA’s TESS Delivers New Insights Into an Ultrahot World

This illustration shows how planet KELT-9 b sees its host star. Over the course of a single orbit, the planet twice experiences cycles of heating and cooling caused by the star’s unusual pattern of surface temperatures. Between the star’s hot poles and cool equator, temperatures vary by about 1,500 F (800 C). This produces a “summer” when the planet faces a pole and a “winter” when it faces the cooler midsection. So every 36 hours, KELT-9 b experiences two summers and two winters. [Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith (USRA)]

By Francis Reddy
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Greenbelt, Md. — Measurements from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) have enabled astronomers to greatly improve their understanding of the bizarre environment of KELT-9 b, one of the hottest planets known.

“The weirdness factor is high with KELT-9 b,” said John Ahlers, an astronomer at Universities Space Research Association in Columbia, Maryland, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “It’s a giant planet in a very close, nearly polar orbit around a rapidly rotating star, and these features complicate our ability to understand the star and its effects on the planet.”

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A Mirror Image of Earth and Sun

This artist’s concept depicts select planetary discoveries made to date by NASA’s Kepler space telescope. (Credit: NASA/W. Stenzel)

The star Kepler-160 and its companion KOI-456.04 are more reminiscent of the Sun-Earth system than any previously known exoplanet-star pair

Göttingen, Germany (Max Planck Institute PR) — The star Kepler-160 is probably orbited by a planet less than twice the size of the Earth with a star-planet distance that could permit planetary surface temperatures conducive to life. The newly discovered exoplanet, which was found by a team of scientists led by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Göttingen is more than just another potentially habitable world.

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Texas Astronomer Uses 25-year-old Hubble Data to Confirm Planet Proxima Centauri c

Fritz Benedict is an emeritus Senior Research Scientist with The University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory. (Credit: McDonald Observatory)

AUSTIN (McDonald Observatory PR) — Fritz Benedict has used data he took over two decades ago with Hubble Space Telescope to confirm the existence of another planet around the Sun’s nearest neighbor, Proxima Centauri, and to pin down the planet’s orbit and mass.

Benedict, an emeritus Senior Research Scientist with McDonald Observatory at The University of Texas at Austin, will present his findings today in a scientific session and then in a press conference at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

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JPL Mission Breaks Record for Smallest Satellite to Detect an Exoplanet

ASTERIA was deployed from the International Space Station on November 20, 2017. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

About the size of a briefcase, the CubeSat was built to test new technologies but exceeded expectations by spotting a planet outside our solar system.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Long before it was deployed into low-Earth orbit from the International Space Station in Nov. 2017, the tiny ASTERIA spacecraft had a big goal: to prove that a satellite roughly the size of a briefcase could perform some of the complex tasks much larger space observatories use to study exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system. A new paper soon to be published in the Astronomical Journal describes how ASTERIA (short for Arcsecond Space Telescope Enabling Research in Astrophysics) didn’t just demonstrate it could perform those tasks but went above and beyond, detecting the known exoplanet 55 Cancri e.

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Solar Gravity Lens Concept Receives $2 Million NASA Grant for Technology Maturation

Graphic depiction of Direct Multipixel Imaging and Spectroscopy of an Exoplanet with a Solar Gravity Lens Mission (Credit: S. Turyshev)

EL SEGUNDO, Calif., Apr. 20 2020 (The Aerospace Corporation PR) – The Solar Gravity Lens (SGL) concept to send a fleet of optical telescopes to image habitable planets far beyond our solar system received a $2 million grant by NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program

This two-year grant will support the further maturation of SGL technologies. The mission is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) with The Aerospace Corporation (Aerospace) as the mission architect.

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NASA $2M Grant Advances Study to Directly Image Exoplanets Light Years Away

Xplore’s Advanced Solar Sail for NASA’s Solar Gravity Lens Focus Mission. (Visualization by Bryan Versteeg, SpaceHabs.com)

Xplore’s advanced solar sail design will be the fastest spacecraft ever made

SEATTLE (Xplore PR) — Xplore Inc., a commercial space exploration company providing Space as a ServiceTM today announced they and their teammates won a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase III award for a two-year, $2M NASA grant to further mature the Solar Gravity Lens Focus (SGLF) architecture to image planets in orbit around distant stars starting with a Technology Demonstration Mission (TDM).

Dr. Slava G. Turyshev, a NIAC Fellow and Senior Research Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is the Principal Investigator leading the SGLF mission which includes Xplore, JPL and The Aerospace Corporation. The SGLF mission study is only the third Phase III award granted in the NIAC program ever.

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Dedicated Team of Scientists Discover Habitable-Zone Earth-Size Planet in Kepler Data

An illustration of Kepler-1649c orbiting around its host red dwarf star. This newly discovered exoplanet is in its star’s habitable zone and is the closest to Earth in size and temperature found yet in Kepler’s data. Credits: NASA/Ames Research Center/ Daniel Rutter

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (SETI Institute PR) — In a new paper published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, co-authored by SETI Institute scientist Jeff Coughlin, astronomers using Kepler data have identified a planet nearly the same size of Earth that orbits in its star’s habitable zone, where liquid water could exist on its surface. 

This new world, Kepler-1649c, is 300 light-years away and orbits a star that is about one-fourth the size of our Sun.  Only 6% bigger than the Earth, it shares its sun with a planet much like Venus, Kepler-1649b, which was discovered three years ago. Although NASA’s Kepler space telescope was retired in 2018 when it ran out of fuel, scientists are still making discoveries as they continue to examine the signals Kepler detected. 

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Cheops Observes its First Exoplanets, Ready for Science

An image of the star known as HD 88111 taken by Cheops. The spacecraft took an image of this star every 30 seconds for 47 consecutive hours. The images taken by Cheops are intentionally blurred: this deliberate de-focusing is at the core of the mission’s observing strategy, which improves the measurement precision by spreading the light coming from distant stars over many pixels of its detector. (Credit: Cheops ESA/Airbus/CHEOPS Mission Consortium)

PARIS (ESA PR) — Cheops, ESA’s new exoplanet mission, has successfully completed its almost three months of in-orbit commissioning, exceeding expectations for its performance. The satellite, which will commence routine science operations by the end of April, has already obtained promising observations of known exoplanet-hosting stars, with many exciting discoveries to come.

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Earth-Size, Habitable Zone Planet Found Hidden in Early NASA Kepler Data

An illustration of Kepler-1649c orbiting around its host red dwarf star. This newly discovered exoplanet is in its star’s habitable zone and is the closest to Earth in size and temperature found yet in Kepler’s data. Credits: NASA/Ames Research Center/ Daniel Rutter

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — A team of transatlantic scientists, using reanalyzed data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, has discovered an Earth-size exoplanet orbiting in its star’s habitable zone, the area around a star where a rocky planet could support liquid water.

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NIAC Award: Exoplanet Imaging Using Solar Gravitational Lens

Graphic depiction of Direct Multipixel Imaging and Spectroscopy of an Exoplanet with a Solar Gravity Lens Mission (Credit: S. Turyshev)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC)
Phase III Award
Amount: $2 million

Direct Multipixel Imaging and Spectroscopy of an Exoplanet with a Solar Gravitational Lens Mission

Slava Turyshev
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

The solar gravitational lens (SGL) is characterized by remarkable properties: it offers brightness amplification of up to a factor of ~1e11 (at 1 um) and extreme angular resolution (~1e-10 arcsec). As such, it allows for extraordinary observational capabilities for direct high-resolution imaging and spectroscopy of Earth-like exoplanets.

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CSA Issues Letter of Interest for 7 Priority Technologies

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has issued a Letter of Interest (LOI) for seven priority technologies the agency wants industry to develop under its Space Technology Development Program.

The technologies include: improved wide-field astronomical imaging; exoplanet search; advanced planetary exploration instruments; improvements in synthetic aperture radar imaging; and the use block chain with Earth observation data.

Below is a table summarizing the seven technologies.

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Airbus Successfully Completes In-orbit Commissioning of CHEOPS Exoplanet Satellite

CHEOPS space telescope (Credit: ESA/ATG Medialab)

MADRID, 26 March 2020 (Airbus PR) – Airbus has received confirmation from ESA of a successful end to the In Orbit Commissioning (IOC) of CHEOPS after the IOC review yesterday. This critical phase was performed by Airbus in Spain with the support of the Instrument Team (University of Bern), Mission Operation Centre (INTA), Science Operation Centre (University of Geneva) and ESA.

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NASA Approves Development of Universe-Studying, Planet-Finding Mission

Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (Credit: NASA)

Editor’s Note: NASA continues to develop WFIRST even as the Trump Administration continues to try to kill it. The administration’s FY 2021 budget request cancels the telescope, a proposal Congress rejected last year.

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) project has passed a critical programmatic and technical milestone, giving the mission the official green light to begin hardware development and testing.

The WFIRST space telescope will have a viewing area 100 times larger than that of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, which will enable it to detect faint infrared signals from across the cosmos while also generating enormous panoramas of the universe, revealing secrets of dark energy, discovering planets outside our solar system (exoplanets), and addressing a host of other astrophysics and planetary science topics.

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LOFAR Pioneers New Way to Study Exoplanet Environments

OUDE HOOGEVEENSEDIJK, The Netherlands (Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy PR) — Using the Dutch-led Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) radio telescope, astronomers have discovered unusual radio waves coming from the nearby red dwarf star GJ1151. The radio waves bear the tell-tale signature of aurorae caused by an interaction between a star and its planet.

The radio emission from a star-planet interaction has been predicted for over thirty-years but this is the first time astronomers have been able to discern its signature. This method, only possible with a sensitive radio telescope like LOFAR, opens the door to a new way of discovering exoplanets in the habitable zone and studying the environment they exist in.

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