Gliese 486b is scorching hot, but its atmosphere is a dream for astronomers seeking to understand exoplanets

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Rivers of lava could cover much of the surface of Gliese 486b, a nearby rocky planet. Image credit: Render Area

Burning at temperatures hot enough to melt zinc, a rocky planet orbits the star Gliese 486. Found just 26 light years from Earth, Gliese 486b glows at temperatures hovering around 430 degrees Celsius (800 Fahrenheit).

This world is a dream for astronomers seeking to understand the atmospheres of distant planets. Although Gliese 486b is far too hot to support life as we know it, this world could help astronomers better understand the atmospheres of other worlds, including those capable of supporting life.


The volcano planet LHS 3844b might be filled with active volcanoes covering half its surface, forming a glowing red alien world.

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An artist’s concept of LHS 3844b, showing the day side of this planet awash with volcanic activity. Image credit: The Cosmic Companion / Created in NASA’s Eyes

Like the volcano planet Mustafar from Star Wars, half of the exoplanet 3844b could be covered in active volcanoes. This planet, discovered in 2019, could be the first world we know, outside the solar system, to have plate tectonics, which guides much of geology on our own world.

On Earth, plate tectonics drives earthquakes and builds mighty mountains, and it ferries materials from beneath the surface of the Earth, expelling material to the crust and atmosphere. …

A space hurricane in the upper atmosphere of Earth is seen for the first time, opening new avenues in the exploration of space weather.

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Hurricanes are common on Earth (and even on other worlds, but here comes space hurricanes. Image credit: The Cosmic Companion / Earth image by NASA / Photo of women by Israel Gomes/Pexels

Hurricanes are well-familiar to the inhabitants of Earth, especially those in areas prone to the blustery conditions. But, these terrestrial tempests are not the only form hurricanes can take.

Now, new observations show a space hurricane for the first time in the ionosphere, sitting within the upper regions of the atmosphere of Earth where gases are ionized by radiation from the Sun.

Satellite observations taken by four satellites in August 2014 show a long-lasting space hurricane…

Microorganisms living under the ocean floor feed off products of radioactive decay. Could alien microbes do the same?

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Microbial life thrives where radioactivity breaks water into hydrogen and oxidants. Image credit: Concheven/Flickr

Microbes living beneath the seafloor feed largely on the products of radioactive decay, aided by sediment of the seafloor, a new study reveals. This finding radically changes how we look at life processes in one of the largest ecosystems on our planet. It could also alter our views of how life may have evolved on Mars or other alien worlds.

Typically, it was believed that organic material was the primary source of energy for microbes living far beneath the oceans. However, most…

New images of Venus recorded by the Parker Solar Probe offers unexpected new science.

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The Parker Solar Probe was designed to study the Sun, but it may be even better at seeing through the clouds of Venus than anyone predicted. Image credit: Parker Solar Probe: NASA Johns Hopkins APL Steve Gribben, Venus: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Naval Research Laboratory/Guillermo Stenborg and Brendan Gallagher

The Parker Solar Probe, designed for detailed study of the Sun, has another advantage — it is able to examine planets as it passes their orbits. As it refines its orbit around our Sun, Parker will pass Venus a total of seven times over its seven-year mission. The Parker probe uses the gravitational pull of planets to bend its path through the Solar System.

Recorded on July 11, 2020, a fascinating new image of Venus was taken during the third of Parker’s seven planned encounters with…

Water worlds might fill our galaxy, a new study examining the formation of the inner planets of our own solar system reveals. What does this mean for life?

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Water-rich rocky exoplanets may be even more common than we thought, a new study suggests. Image credit: The Cosmic Companion / Created in Universe Sandbox

Astronomers currently know of more than 4,400 exoplanets orbiting alien suns. Many of these may be water worlds, according to a new study examining how Earth and the rocky planets of our solar system first took shape.

Roughly 4.5 billion years ago, the rocky planets of the Solar System could have coalesced from millimeter-sized (1/25") pebbles of ice carbon-rich stones, this new study suggests. …

Microbes grow in Martian soil, showing life is capable of surviving within the ruddy crust of Mars.

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Specimens of the microbe M. Sedula were successfully grown within Martian crust. Image credit: Tetyana Milojevic

Billions of years ago, Mars was home to oceans, rivers, and seas. During this ancient era of the Red Planet, atmospheric pressures and temperatures were themselves higher than today, making Mars a far more temperate world than the one we know in our modern age.

Today, we search for signs of any ancient life which may have once graced the surface of the Red Planet. …

The Perseverance rover just touched down on Mars, placing a one-ton SUV-sized robotic car on the Red Planet.

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An artist concept of the Perseverance rover collecting samples from the Martian surface for future analysis in Earthbound laboratories. Image credit: NASA-JPL/Caltech

Following a 203-day mission, the Perseverance rover — the most-advanced rover ever sent to Mars, affectionately known as Percy — successfully touched down on the Red Planet on February 18th at 3:55 EST. This ambitious NASA mission — officially called Mars 2020 — is the third of three spacecraft to arrive at Mars in the last two weeks.

The SUV-sized rover will explore the Martian surface, looking for water, and possible signs of ancient microbial life which may have once made their…

The TOI 451 star system is found to have three exoplanets, previously unknown to astronomers, revealed by the TESS spacecraft

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The TOI 451 planetary system explained. Image credit: NASA/GSFC

Roughly 400 light years from Earth, a young star named TOI 451 travels within a river of stars. An international team of astronomers have now found three previously unknown exoplanets orbiting that star.

The Pisces-Eridanus stream of stars was only recently discovered — at the end of 2018 — despite stretching across one-third of the sky. Stars within this stream average only around three percent of the age of our own solar system.

“This system checks a lot of boxes…

How far out is Farfarout? Well, we found out. This dwarf planet is really far, far out.

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A look at how the distance of Farfarout compares to other objects in the Solar System. Image credit: NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/J. da Silva

Deep in the dark, frigid expanse of the outer solar system, Farfarout slowly orbits the distant Sun, taking 1,000 years to complete each lonely orbit. First discovered in 1997 by astronomers at the Subaru eight-meter telescope on Maunakea in Hawaii, details of this frozen world are just now being revealed.

Astronomers Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science, David Tholen from the University of Hawaii, and Chad Trujillo from Northern Arizona University have measured just how far out Farfarout is — about…

James Maynard

Writing about space since I was 10, still not Carl Sagan. Weekly video show, podcast, comics, more:

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