Caltech, JPL, and NIST researchers have developed a simple, cost-effective laser frequency comb, potentially simplifying measurements of the telltale "wobbles" from stars that reveal the presence and properties of planets around other stars.
Thanks to a new high-tech gadget, astronomers have observed four planets orbiting a star relatively close to the sun in unprecedented detail, revealing the roughly ten-Jupiter-mass planets to be among the most exotic ones known.
Look up at the night sky and you'll see stars, sure. But you're also seeing planets—billions and billions of them. At least. That's the conclusion of a new study by Caltech astronomers that provides yet more evidence that planetary systems are the cosmic norm.
The confirmed count of planets in other solar systems has skyrocketed to more than 850, plus thousands of identified candidates. The opportunity to characterize so many solar systems has brought together Caltech planetary scientists and astronomers, who are forming a Center for Planetary Astronomy.
Two Caltech faculty members have been awarded Packard Fellowships for Science and Engineering. Biologist Alexei Aravin and astronomer John Johnson each were awarded $875,000, to be distributed over five years.
Like so many things in life, it all started with a girl. In fifth grade, the girl who sat next to Keith Hawkins every day in class would check out encyclopedias and look up subjects in astronomy, admiring pictures of swirling galaxies and colorful nebulae. Hawkins would join her, and the two of them would sit together and gaze at the heavens, one page at a time.
Earlier this month, Eris—the distant world first discovered by Caltech's Mike Brown and colleagues back in 2005, paving the way for the eventual demotion of Pluto from planet to dwarf planet—passed fortuitously in front of a faint star in the constellation Cetus. That passage, or occultation, allowed the first direct measurement of Eris's size.
As a kid, Assistant Professor of Astronomy John Johnson wasn't interested in astronomy—or even science for that matter. But now, as an assistant professor of astronomy, he's discovering entirely new worlds. In an interview, he talks about the search for planets and the rapidly evolving field of exoplanet astronomy.
Hundreds of extrasolar planets have been found, most solitary worlds orbiting their parent star in seeming isolation. Further observation has revealed that planets come in bunches. Most systems contain planets orbiting too far from one another to feel each other's gravity. In a handful of cases, planets have been found near enough to one another to interact gravitationally. Now, however, Caltech's John A. Johnson and his colleagues have found two systems with pairs of gas giant planets locked in an intimate orbital embrace.