Category Archives: Exoplanet

“Into the Unknown”- The Story of the James Webb Telescope

Space – This video is a great, 38+ minute story of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWT) which is scheduled for launch in 2018. The video has a good explanation of why the infrared capabilities of the JWT will vastly extend our view into the universe. It is also hoped that by identifying the gasses in exoplanet atmospheres it will be able to discover any exoplanets that support life.

“The Science of Star Trek” 2016 Video

I have been a Star Trek fan since the series first debuted on TV in 1966. I came across this video and thought that it gave a good look at the ‘science’ of the Star Trek universe. It also touches upon the desire the fiction of Star Trek has instilled in many to make it possible to literally ‘go where no man has gone before’.

I look back at the 50 years that have passed since the series began and see how the series has continued to give us a look at the possible technology of the future. During that same time we have seen our real science evolve. The cell phones, tablet computers, 3D printers, and voice computer UI all had affiliated tech in the 1966 Star Trek episodes. There is even an on-going competition (the Tricorder X prize) to see who can develop a working “Tricorder” for medical

If you are interested in the Star Trek universe or in technology and the possibility of interstellar travel, this video will be of interest.

Holy S%#t! Potentially Earth-like Planet Found at Closest Star

There are so many exoplanets being discovered, and so many that lie in the the range of what we consider habitable.


Stories about potentially Earth-like planets orbiting far away stars have been making the headlines for years. With the Kepler spacecraft monitoring the stars, searching for telltale dips in brightness that indicate the presence of a planet, and a host of telescopes adding their capabilities to the mix, discoveries have been coming in at an amazing pace. But with each new potential Earth 2.0, the excitement is a little less, especially considering that even the closest discovery is so far away that each represents little more than a curiosity – until now.

Using two instruments mounted on telescopes in Chile – the Ultraviolet and Visual Echelle Spectrograph (UVES) and the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) – astronomers detected a slight wobble in the red dwarf star, Proxima Centauri, which indicates the presence of a planet. After focusing HARPS on the star for months in early 2016, and combining it with data…

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Four New Planets Found… In the Same Star System

It is amazing how far we have come in discovering exoplanets. When the James Webb Space Telescope is launched in late 2018, the ability to observe exoplanets will be enhanced.


The Kepler spacecraft has been finding planets all over the place during its K2 mission. To date, it has found 104 confirmed planets among 197 star systems surveyed. Yesterday, NASA announced four more planetary finds, but this time they were all in the same star system– and some of them are in the habitable zone, meaning they could support life. There are a lot of really interesting facts uncovered about this star system that were divulged in NASA’s press release on the subject.

What’s the Star Like?

The planets were found in the K2-72 star system. Its sun is much smaller and less massive than our sun, measuring in at about 23% of its size, and 22% of its mass. It is classified as a red dwarf, with its surface temperature coming in at 3497 degrees Kelvin – compared to the Sun’s 5778 degrees Kelvin. Below, I put together…

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Without a Doubt, the Coolest Planet Ever

I think that as our technology evolves we will find many interesting and ‘cool’ planets among the exoplanets discovered.


It’s hard to imagine that at one time scientists were unsure whether planets even existed outside out solar system. Now, it seems like lately there is a new planet discovered every week – it’s almost become commonplace. But now the coolest planet of the bunch has been discovered just 340 light years from Earth orbiting the star HD 131399A.

What Makes This Planet Special?

The planet, HD 131399Ab, is the first one ever found that is in a star system with three stars.  It had previously been thought that three stars would prohibit a planet from forming and maintaining a stable orbit. That theory has just been proven wrong. The video below shows how the planet and stars orbit, and is just amazing. It shows that the two smaller stars in the system orbit each other, and as a pair orbit the larger star. The planet also orbits the larger star, inside the…

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Space News #6


There has been so much in the news regarding space that I have been challenged to keep up with it. These are some of the more recent items that I thought were interesting.

Planet 9

This is a new planet that astronomers have been predicting. It is believed that the orbit is 10 times farther from the Sun than Pluto. There is still not solid proof, but the evidence is mounting in the favor of a new planet. The indicators are that it may well be an exoplanet that was captured by our sun from another star millions of years ago.  Read more here, here and here.

SpaceX Turns to Unusual Designer

We all know that astronauts must have space suits. SpaceX turned to an unusual source of their yet to be revealed design, Jose Fernandez and Ironhead Studio. Fernandez has been the one who has created the ‘superhero’ outfits seen in recent movies. The new space suit is said to be ‘stylish’ and ‘heroic’, though we will apparently have to wait until 2017 to see it for ourselves.

Of Course Aliens Exist!

In “A leading physicist says it’s ‘childish’ to think there are no aliens” the arguments of Carlo Rovelli as to why aliens are out there are detailed. In short the universe is so large, with so many stars, it is impractical to think that intelligent life only developed on Earth.

More Exoplanets

In May of 2016, NASA announced that it has discovered another 1284 planets using Kepler. This brings the total exoplanet count to 2325. Not all in the habitable zone, but there are candidates that could support life. These and as yet confirmed exoplanets will form the target for future searches for life as we know it. Read “NASA just discovered 1,284 new planets — here’s how many could potentially support life” for more details.

Human Exploration Limited

In “Even with sci-fi tech, it may be impossible to explore the known universe” the limits of what humans may be able to practically explore of our universe  is suggested. Due to the constant expansion of the universe, we probably will never – even if we discover ‘Warp’ drive – be able to get to many of the other galaxies that we can see. We may be limited to exploring the Milky Way, Andromeda and 50 dwarf galaxies. Yet with that limitation, there will be billions of stars within our reach.

‘Snow White’ Third Largest Dwarf

I am not talking Disney here, but planets. The 955 mile diameter 2007 ORIO has been declared the third largest dwarf planet in the Solar System by NASA. Snow White is not the official name, but stems from the surface ice. The orbit is slow at 548 years and the small planet has 45 hour long days.

Space News #5


Here are a few more articles covering space that I thought were interesting.

SpaceX to use Most Powerful Rocket for Mars Shot

In early posts I have mentioned that SpaceX plans to send a Dragon module to Mars by 2018. The plan will be to use it to retrieve samples from Mars. They will be using the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle, the big brother to the current Falcon 9. When put into use, the Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket in operation (The Saturn V used for the Apollo Moon missions was more powerful, but has been retired).

In recent tests the Falcon 9 surprised the SpaceX engineers by demonstrating enough thrust to launch over 50,000 pounds of payload into orbit (up from the previous maximum load of only 29,000 pounds). The Falcon Heavy will be able to carry almost 120,000 pounds into orbit. The Falcon Heavy is currently planned for a first launch late in 2016.

The planned soft landing on the surface of Mars using thrusters to slow the descent is untried so far. SpaceX will achieve a number of new firsts if they are able to pull this off. Read more here and here.

Three New Exoplanets Possible Homes for Life

Three exoplanets discovered by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) European Southern Observatory with its Belgian Trappist telescope are good candidates for life. These planets orbit a relatively small, cool star and may have habitable zones. They lie only 40 lightyears away, so are relatively close.  Between the proximity and dimness of the star, the atmospheres should be easier to analyze from Earth.

Boing CST-100 Starliner

While the Starliner was supposed to debut in 2017, it looks like it will now be 2018 before it’s first flight. The Boing entry was supposed to be the second space flight option to the SpaceX Dragon for transportation to the ISS and low Earth orbit.

Space News #4

I haven’t been keeping up very well with Space related news, so some of these articles date back to April. I think that they are still relevant though.

Alien Life

As we look for possible homes for live in the universe, we are biased towards life taking on the aspects we know well of life here on Earth. “How alien can a planet be and still support life?“. Astronomers have primarily focused on those exoplanets in the ‘Goldilocks’ zone as being the most likely to be the home to some sort of life.

Just being in the ‘Goldilocks’ zone does not mean that the planet will host life. In our own planetary system both Venus and Mars could fall within the ‘Goldilocks’ zone. Neither, so far, have shown any sign of harboring life. The theory is raised that plate tectonics may be an additional requirement for life.

This article gives some additional background as to what my be needed for an exoplanet to develop and support life.

Ion Engine

In “THIS FUTURISTIC ION ENGINE COULD CARRY OUR LUGGAGE TO MARS” the Ion Engine that NASA is planning to use to supply the early Mars missions is discussed. This engine will harvest the abundant solar energy using it to expel xenon gas as the propellant. This system will be 10 times more efficient that conventional chemical rocket motors.

Chemical rockets can generate more thrust, but the ion engine can generate continuous thrust. The chemical propulsion systems also require considerable space for storing the necessary fuel. NASA hopes to launch a mission to the asteroid belt, capture an asteroid and then return it to orbit the Moon by 2026.

Inertia Could Explain EM Drive

A new theory of inertia could explain the EM Drive’s anomalous thrust” tries to explain how the EM Drive may be able to work. The EM Drive is still deeply controversial, with most physicists stating that it simply cannot work. That said, as I have noted in previous posts, there is some scientific evidence that it may be able to generate thrust.

In this article, a new theory of inertia is used as a possible explanation. This theory of inertia could explain the thrust generated inside the EM Drive.

Lots of theory here. Time will tell if the theory has any merit and it the EM Drive is more than just a hope.

More on the EM Drive

Another view of the EM Drive and the physics behind it is provided in “EM Drive Rises Despite Pathoskeptic Dirge“. This article also mentions the new theory of inertia and Unruh radiation as an explanation.

Finding Life

The article “SEARCHING FOR LIFE IN ALL THE RIGHT PLACES” describes a methods astrobiologists plan to follow to find extraterrestrial life. In summary these efforts are:

  • Drilling into the ice in Antarctica to look for extreme forms of life
  • Bringing samples home from Mars for further analysis
  • Scanning exoplanets for signs of life
  • Searching for more exoplanets

Not a lot of details, more of an overview of efforts planned

SpaceX Headed to Mars

SpaceX has plans (“SpaceX plans to send a Red Dragon spacecraft to Mars as early as 2018“) to send an unmanned spacecraft to Mars as early as 2018. This would be using their current Dragon module that is being used to resupply the ISS. Because of the limited size of the Dragon, it is ill-suited for long duration missions. Sending it to Mars though would be a proof of concept flight in preparation for later manned missions.

Drake Updated

The Drake Equation was updated in light of exoplanet discoveries by NASA by University of Rochester scientists. you can read “Are we alone? Setting some limits to our planet’s uniqueness” for more details, but the gist is that life out there somewhere is more likely today than thought in Drake’s time.

Space News #2 – Renewed Kepler Search, SpaceX Recycling and Inflatables in Orbit

There have been several articles of interest over the past few weeks.

Renewed Kepler Search

NASA’s Kepler is working a new mission. It had been feared that a malfunction aboard the spacecraft would render it useless. Engineers though were able to craft a solution that allows Kepler to keep hunting exoplanets. Using creative thinking, engineers were able to stabilize Kepler by using radiation pressure from the sun.

Now more than 2 years later Kepler’s second life has yielded more than 35 exoplanets and more than 250 exoplanet candidates awaiting confirmation. Kepler has more than 2 years worth of fuel remaining, so we can expect more discoveries.

Kepler is about to add a new task to it’s mission, searching for free ranging exoplanets. Kepler will use micro-gravitational lensing to detect these wandering exoplanets.

SpaceX Recycling

SpaceX successfully landed a Falcon 9 first stage on their barge on April 8. That first stage is currently being prepared for use again. The plan is to use it within two months. Being able to reuse the first stage will cut launch costs and make space craft available for laugh more quickly.

Successfully reusing this first stage will be a significant step forward for private space companies like SpaceX.

Inflatables In Orbit


The Bigelow module has been delivered and installed on the ISS. While this is only for evaluation and test, Bigelow already has a much larger unit, the B330 designed. As their web site states “The B330 is an expandable space habitat manufactured by Bigelow Aerospace. The design was evolved from NASA’s TransHab habitat concept. The B330 will have 330 cubic meters (12,000 cu/ft) of internal space. The craft will support zero-gravity research including scientific missions, manufacturing processes, a destination for space tourism and a craft for missions destined for the Moon and Mars.

These or similar modules could easily be used to expand the ISS or set up habitat space in orbit around the Moon or Mars. These could also be used to build new orbiting habitats or recreational sites. Bigelow hopes to have these modules in orbit by 2020. They truly lay the groundwork for an “out of this world” vacation.

Colonizing the Moon, SETI, Planet 9 and Hunt for Exoplanets


A few things that I came across this week.

The article “We Can Colonize the Moon by 2022—and for Less than the Cost of an Aircraft Carrier” raises a good point – colonizing the Moon could be done relatively cheaply (as far as government projects goes). $10 Billion spent on a 6 year project could see a colony on the Moon.

That $10 Billion sounds like a lot, but the new  aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford, which is scheduled to be completed this year, is expected to cost $12.5 Billion.

Many of the technologies already developed could be employed constructing a Moon colony

  • Autonomous vehicles
  • 3D printing
  • Inflatable habitat modules

Why choose the Moon, because it is a great staging location for more elaborate missions. A base or colony there could operate much in the same way the bases located on Antartica operate.


SETI announced that it will be changing it’s search pattern to include about 20,000 older, red dwarf stars. These red dwarf stars make up about 75% of the stars in the Milky Way galaxy. This decision was made because recent research has indicated that planets around red dwarfs have oceans and atmospheres. The plan is to use the Allen Telescope Array in Northern California.  This is a 42 antenna radio telescope array located about 300 miles northeast of San Francisco. SETI astronomers think the survey will take about two years to complete.


We may soon have a ninth planet again in the Solar System. Confirmation of the planet has not occurred yet, but the evidence is mounting in favor of it’s existence. New evidence stemming from the motion of objects in the Kuiper Belt imply that a heretofore unknown ninth planet may exist.

Don’t expect to get a glimpse of this new planet anytime soon. The planet, if it exists, is well beyond the Kuiper Belt (which ranges from 30 AU to 50 AU from the Sun) and is thought to have an orbit around the Sun of  about 10,000 years.


There have been a steady stream of exoplanets being announced over the past few years. In a few years the rate of announcements should increase. NASA and the NSF are working with a team of astronomers to build a new instrument, the NN-EXPLORE Exoplanet Investigations with Doppler Spectroscopy (NEID). This three year project is funded for $10 million. Unlike the other instruments being used to find exoplanets, this one will be terrestrial. When completed it will be installed at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona.

The instrument will be hunting for exoplanets by measuring the “wobble” of the sun that they orbit around. This “wobble” is caused by the gravitational affect of the orbiting planets. The amount of “wobble” will indicate the possible planet size. Once suns with “wobble” are identified, the space based instruments will be used to focus on the system for further information.