We now know of almost 5,000 planets outside the Solar System. If you were to picture what it would be like on one of these distant worlds, or exoplanets, your mental image would probably include a parent star—or more than one, especially if you’re a Star Wars fan.
But scientists have recently discovered that more planets than we thought are floating through space all by themselves—unlit by a friendly stellar companion. These are icy “free-floating planets,” or FFPs. But how did they end up all on their own and what can they tell us about how such planets form?
Finding more and more exoplanets to study has, as we might have expected, widened our understanding of what a planet is. In particular, the line between planets and “brown dwarfs”— cool stars that can’t fuse hydrogen like other stars —has become increasingly blurred. What dictates whether an object is a planet or a brown dwarf has long been the subject of debate—is it a question of mass? Do objects cease to be planets if they are undergoing nuclear fusion? Or is the way in which the object was formed most important?
“This is really an origin story; for the first time we can explain how all nearby star formation began,” says astronomer and data visualization expert Catherine Zucker who completed the work during a fellowship at the CfA.
The paper’s central figure, a 3D spacetime animation, reveals that all young stars and star-forming regions — within 500 light years of Earth — sit on the surface of a giant bubble known as the Local Bubble. While astronomers have known of its existence for decades, scientists can now see and understand the Local Bubble’s beginnings and its impact on the gas around it.
India is one of only a handful of nations that have sent probes to the moon and Mars. But the most impressive part of its space program is its cost-effectiveness. Unlike other government space organizations, India’s agency is extremely efficient, with the lowest cost-per-kilogram in the industry. Now India is throwing open its doors to private companies and raising its stellar ambitions.
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The sun was once surrounded by rings of gas and dust similar to those orbiting Saturn, a new study published in the journal Nature Astronomy reveals.
These rings played a vital role in the formation of our solar system and in the size and habitability of Earth.
The early sun’s dust and gas rings may have stopped our planet from becoming a “super-Earth,” according to the Rice University astrophysicists behind the new paper. “In the solar system, something happened to prevent the Earth from growing to become a much larger type of terrestrial planet called a super-Earth,” Rice University astrophysicist André Izidoro, said in a press statement.
Investigated by the SOAR Telescope operated by NOIRLab, the binary system is the first to be found at the penultimate stage of its evolution. Using the 4.1-meter SOAR Telescope in Chile, astronomers have discovered the first example of a binary system where a star in the process of becoming a white.
MIT physicists and colleagues have discovered the “secret sauce” behind some of the exotic properties of a new quantum material that has transfixed physicists due to those properties, which include superconductivity. Although theorists had predicted the reason for the unusual properties of the material, known as a kagome metal, this is the first time that the phenomenon behind those properties has been observed in the laboratory.