Exoplanets dodge bombardment in their infancy

In 2017, NASA announced the discovery of seven rocky, Earth-sized planets orbiting in the habitable zone of a star called TRAPPIST-1. Now, new research has used their harmonious orbits to determine just how much bombardment the planets could have withstood in their infancy. “After rocky planets form, things bash into them,” says astrophysicist Sean Raymond … Continue reading Exoplanets dodge bombardment in their infancy

Astronomers find signs of first intergalactic exoplanet

Astronomers think they’ve found a Saturn-sized planet in the Whirlpool Galaxy, around 30 million light-years from Earth. If confirmed, this would be the first intergalactic exoplanet, beyond our own Milky Way, and would extend the search for new worlds to greater distances than ever before. “We are trying to open up a whole new arena … Continue reading Astronomers find signs of first intergalactic exoplanet

Explainer: when is an asteroid a comet?

The distinction between asteroids and comets used to be clear-cut. Comets were icy bodies that spent most of their time in the cold, dark, outer reaches of the Solar System but occasionally plunged toward the Sun on kamikaze dives that warmed them, vaporised their ices, and produced the dramatic tails we know and love. Asteroids … Continue reading Explainer: when is an asteroid a comet?

A winter’s tale (in the Kuiper belt)

Winter is coming on Pluto. And it is a winter, scientists say, unlike anything imaginable on Earth, a winter in which the dwarf planet’s entire atmosphere is expected to freeze out as frost, leaving it nearly as airless at the Moon. Not that Pluto has ever had a thick atmosphere. Its current surface pressure is … Continue reading A winter’s tale (in the Kuiper belt)

Disintegrating comet was seen by ancient civilisations

Researchers in the US have wound back the cosmic clock to determine that a spectacular comet whizzed past the Earth 5,000 years ago. While the event isn’t recorded in any historical account, the team were able to gather clues from more recently sighted comets. In a paper published in the Astronomical Journal, they examined observations … Continue reading Disintegrating comet was seen by ancient civilisations

Radioactive elements in the early solar system

An international team of scientists have found new clues about the development of our solar system, after examining radioactive elements in another star-forming region of the galaxy. The study, which used observations of the Ophiuchus star-forming complex, has allowed the astronomers to conclude that nearby supernovas are the most likely source of these elements in … Continue reading Radioactive elements in the early solar system

Moon-forming disc detected around another world

For the first time, astronomers have unambiguously spotted a disc of gas and dust around a planet in a distant solar system – which could give us insight into how exomoons form. “Our work presents a clear detection of a disc in which satellites could be forming,” says Myriam Benisty from the University of Grenoble, … Continue reading Moon-forming disc detected around another world

Mystery solved: Jupiter’s X-ray aurora explained

Chinese and UK researchers have solved a 40-year-old puzzle: how does Jupiter produce regular and spectacular bursts of X-rays? Turns out, it’s all to do with the gas giant’s magnetic field. Like Earth, Jupiter displays spectacular light shows at its poles, where charged particles from the Sun (as well as from giant volcanoes on the … Continue reading Mystery solved: Jupiter’s X-ray aurora explained

Return to the Forgotten Planet

With scientists increasingly excited about the possibility that Venus might once have had an ocean capable of supporting life, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have approved not one but three new missions to Earth’s closest neighbouring planet.  At the same time, Russia is also looking at a potential Venus launch, says Michael Way, … Continue reading Return to the Forgotten Planet

Ocean worlds in the solar system

Once upon a time, the only world known to have an ocean of water was Earth. Now, planetary scientists think there are many ocean worlds – albeit with their oceans covered by deep layers of ice, rather than hanging out on the surface like ours. Top on the list is Jupiter’s moon Europa, believed to … Continue reading Ocean worlds in the solar system

Grains of dust revise Solar System history

Asteroids that formed far out in the Solar System appear to contain dust grains that themselves condensed from the infant Solar System’s protoplanetary disc much closer to the Sun, scientists say. That means this dust was somehow transported from the inner reaches of the disc to its outer reaches, says Curtis Williams, a geochemist at … Continue reading Grains of dust revise Solar System history

Did Sun have an early binary companion?

In the early days of the Solar System, the Sun may have had a companion star, scientists say, making it part of a binary system like many others in the Milky Way galaxy. But this doesn’t mean the view from the infant Earth would have looked like that from Tatooine, the fictional planet that was … Continue reading Did Sun have an early binary companion?