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The truth is that we don’t know what the surface of Pluto looks like. We have images of the planet taken with one of the worlds most powerful telescopes, the Hubble Space Telescope, and we have spectra (which give us information about the surface composition). However, these observations are not sufficient in order to establish the geology of the dwarf planet. This is about to change. This summer, the New …

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Today I got the unique opportunity to meet Neil deGrasse Tyson at my new job at the Institut d’Astrophysique in Paris. By chance I saw him outside my office window so naturally I felt the urge to go down and say hello. He was being given a tour of the Observatory in Paris, and since I have also not seen the observatory, I asked to join the group which was …

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Lately I’ve been busy working on a project which involves studying the atmosphere of the super-Earth GJ 1214b, which is currently the only super-Earth (~1.5-10 MEarth) currently within the detection limits of current instruments. In a majority of previous studies aimed at detecting the atmosphere of GJ 1214b, it has been found that GJ 1214b has a flat, featureless spectrum, with no evidence of any significant features either at optical …

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There have been a number of extremely interesting results when it comes to exoplanet research these past few years. Here I have put together some of my favourite ones. Exoplanets are more common than stars Source: Nature Letter, Public Version This claim has to be one of my favourites. The result comes from a two year long gravitational microlensing survey aimed towards the galactic bulge. What I find particularly interesting is not only the sheer number …

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There are a few techniques we can use to study the atmosphere of an exoplanet. One of these techniques is called transmission spectroscopy, which is all about measuring the atmospheric absorption of an exoplanet atmosphere as a function of wavelength. Having recently acquired a microphone I thought it would be fun to try and explain verbally how we obtain a transmission spectrum which we can then use to study exoplanet atmospheres. var …

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What great news! The star system closest to us, the Alpha Centauri System, has an exoplanet orbiting one of it’s stars. The new planet has a mass nearly identical to Earth but it’s far from habitable with an orbit much closer to it’s host star than Mercury. At a distance of “only” 4.4 light years away, this is without doubt the closest exoplanet found to date. Me stood outside the HARPS …

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Sometimes astronomers get lucky, real lucky. This was definitely the case for Hirano and his team of astronomers. Using data from the Kepler satellite they observed not only two simultaneous transits, but what in all likelyhood is a planet partially transiting infront of another planet. Quite amazing, if you ask me. A schematic representation of the two planets transiting the disc of the host star. The size of the planets and the angle between …

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Three new sub-Jupiter mass exoplanets were announced today on astro-ph by the SuperWASP team. You can find the paper here. What I find very interesting about the paper is not that three new exoplanets were discovered, but that one of the planets, WASP-54b, seems to be an ideal candidate for detailed atmospheric studies. To date, there are only a handful of exoplanets which allow their atmospheres to be studied. To …

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ESO has just published a new coffee-table book in celebration of ESO’s 50th anniversary, and best of all, it is free to download. The book is full of great images both of the skies and the observatories. Book cover “Europe to the Stars” Feature image credit: ESO

If you, like me, are intersted in exoplanets, you have probably come across the term “Earth-like” exoplanets in the media. Here are some prime examples: Kepler 22-b: Earth-like planet confirmed – BBC News Kepler Team Confirms First Earth-like Planet in a Habitable Zone, And Finds 1,094 More Worlds – POPSCI The term Earth-like stimulates our interest and we get intrigued, making us want to know more. But what does Earth-like …

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