Category Archives: Planets

Dwarf planets and the problem of the IAU

What is a dwarf planet? Under the definition accepted by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), a dwarf planet is any object orbiting the Sun that is large enough to become round under its own gravity, but is not large enough … Continue reading

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Planets abound!

It’s always fun when a government agency uses the word “bonanza” in a press release. NASA’s Kepler space telescope spent mission spent three and a half years observing distant stars in our galaxy looking for planets crossing in front of … Continue reading

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GPI: a new way of planet-hunting

We’ve had the capability to find planets by taking pictures of them directly for a while now, usually in the infrared, but sometimes in visible light. But now we have the capability to do a whole lot more of it. … Continue reading

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A second planet seen in visible light–and it’s a weird one

You may have recently heard about HD 106906b, the latest of many oddballs in the rapidly growing exoplanet family. This planet orbits far away from its star, far enough that it is not lost in the glare, and can be … Continue reading

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Mismatched planets

We would expect that planets that form close together would be similar to one another. We would also expect that planets that form close together would stay close together and planets that form far apart would stay far apart. Therefore, … Continue reading

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A ringed (?) planet (?) with moons (?) far, far away

The majestic rings of Saturn are one of the most beautiful sights in our Solar System and a favorite target of stargazers. But all of the gas giant planets in our Solar System have rings, at least very faint ones. … Continue reading

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Kepler Mission officially retires from planet hunting

Today, NASA announced that the Kepler Spacecraft has been officially retired from its primary mission of looking for Earth-like planets around other stars. Two of the spacecraft’s four reaction wheels–basically gyroscopes that keep it pointed straight–have failed in the past … Continue reading

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The diamond planet (that was once a star)

I’ve written before about pulsar planets, planets that form from the debris left over after a supernova, or that get captured from another solar system. But PSR J1719-1438 b is not like either of those planets. It’s a fragment of … Continue reading

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You’d be surprised what a planet can live through

Just one week left for Camp NaNoWriMo. I’m still on schedule with 40,641 words. In about 5 billion years, our Sun will run out of hydrogen in its core turn into a red giant, expanding by about 200 times until … Continue reading

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Tatooine or bust

About half the points of light you can see in the night sky are binary star systems: two stars (sometimes more) orbiting each other. Sometimes, these stars are far apart, and planets can orbit just one of them with no … Continue reading

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