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Extrasolar Planets: June 2013


One of the most profound questions about the newly discovered class of low-density super-Earths is whether these exoplanets are predominately H2-dominated mini-Neptunes or volatile-rich worlds with gas envelopes dominated by H2O, CO2, CO, CH4, or N2.

One Star, Three Habitable Planets

A team of astronomers, including Carnegie's Paul Butler, has combined new observations with existing data to reveal a solar system packed full of planets. The star Gliese 667C is orbited by between five and seven planets, the maximum number that could fit in stable, close orbits. A record-breaking three of these planets are super-Earths found in the so-called habitable zone around the star -- the zone where liquid water could exist. This makes them good candidates for the search for life.

Kepler-22b is the first transiting planet to have been detected in the habitable-zone of its host star. At 2.4 Earth radii, Kepler-22b is too large to be considered an Earth-analog, but should the planet host a moon large enough to maintain an atmosphere, then the Kepler-22 system may yet possess a telluric world.

As part of an international team of exoplanets hunters, astronomers at the University of Arizona are developing a technique to detect faint dust clouds around other stars, many of which might hide Earth-like planets.

Astronomer John Gizis of the University of Delaware, working with data obtained by the Kepler mission, is studying a highly unusual dwarf star and its powerful flares that may hold clues to the likelihood of life on other planets as well as to the behavior of our Sun.

New Kepler Mission Data Delivered

On May 28, 2013, NASA's Kepler mission delivered new data to the NASA Exoplanet Archive. We sat down with Michael Haas, Kepler science office director at NASA Ames Research Center, to find out more.