Super-Earth’s atmosphere isn’t super for life

Image: Exoplanet
An artist’s impression shows the super-Earth 55 Cancri e in front of its parent star. The star is slightly smaller, cooler and less massive than our sun. (Credit: M. Kornmesser / ESA / Hubble)

For the first time, astronomers have conducted a spectral analysis of a distant super-Earth’s atmosphere – and the results show it would be a hellish place to visit.

We already knew that about 55 Cancri e, which is about 40 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cancer. It circles its parent star once every 18 hours, in an orbit so close that its surface temperature is 3,900 degrees Fahrenheit (2,100 degrees Celsius). The world, which is also known as Planet Janssen, is eight times as massive as Earth and has been nicknamed the diamond planet due to its carbon content.

Now we know the planet’s air would be poisonous, even if it we could cool it down.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Universe Today

New index sizes up habitability of alien planets

Image: James Webb Space Telescope
NASA’s James Webb Telescope, shown in this artist’s conception, will provide more data about exoplanets. A new habitability index is aimed at helping scientists prioritize the search. (Credit: NASA)

Researchers at the University of Washington’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory have devised a new habitability index for judging how suitable alien planets might be for life, and the top prospects on their list are an Earthlike world called Kepler-442b and a yet-to-be confirmed planet known as KOI 3456.02.

Those worlds both score higher than our own planet on the index: 0.955 for KOI 3456.02 and 0.836 for Kepler-442b, compared with 0.829 for Earth and 0.422 for Mars. The point of the exercise is to help scientists prioritize future targets for close-ups from NASA’s yet-to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope and other instruments.

Get the full story at Universe Today.


NASA vet Lori Garver does a Mars reality check

Image: Lori Garver
Former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver chats with Alan Boyle during the GeekWire Summit.

If we want to send astronauts to Mars, we better find a way to do it within 10 years. And if we want to discover a blue planet around an alien sun, there’s a good chance it could happen within five years.

That’s how former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver sized up the future of space travel and exploration at the GeekWire Summit on Thursday.

Today, Garver is general manager of the Air Line Pilots Association. But back in 2008, she helped set the space policy trajectory for the Obama administration, and then took the No. 2 spot at the space agency as Administrator Charles Bolden’s deputy. During her four years in that role, she played a key part in NASA’s shift from the space shuttle era to the commercial spaceflight era.

So what’s ahead? Find out what Garver had to say during Thursday’s fireside chat.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Universe Today

Kepler mission finds Earth’s older ‘cousin’

This artist’s concept depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of star that is similar to our sun. (NASA Ames / JPL-Caltech Illustration / T. Pyle)

Scientists say NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has discovered Earth’s “older, bigger first cousin” –  a planet that’s about 60 percent bigger than our own, circling a sunlike star in an orbit that could sustain liquid water and perhaps life.

“Today, Earth is a little bit less lonely, because there’s a new kid on the block,” Kepler data analysis lead Jon Jenkins, a computer scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, said during a NASA teleconference about the find.

Get the full story on Universe Today.