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Winter wonders - News from the AAS
posted by Joshua Rodriguez
January 13, 2014

The semi-annual American Astronomical Society meeting isn’t just a place where scientists gather to discuss their research, it’s also often a staging ground for some of the year’s biggest exoplanet news releases. And this winter’s meeting in Maryland followed suit.

Life after death

kepler dataFour years of Kepler data have produced a bounty of exoplanets between Earth and Neptune size.

Despite the end of its primary mission, the Kepler data archive continues to be a goldmine of exoplanet information, as the mission kicked off things with the announcement that it had confirmed 41 new planet discoveries with the help of the Keck Telescopes in Hawaii.

Like so many of the previous Kepler discoveries, these new planets were in between Earth and Neptune size - further suggesting that smaller planets form the bulk of what’s out there in the galaxy.

GPI sets its eyes on the sky

gpiAstronomers hope GPI's stunning new exoplanet direct image is a sign of many awesome discoveries to come.

Are we entering the era of direct planet imaging? A new instrument in Chile is promising to redefine how we observe exoplanets.

“First light” images are the first observation a new telescope makes, and one could forgive the Gemini Planet Imager, tasked with taking pictures of exoplanets, for having a few kinks in the system still.

Instead, the instrument wowed folks with an incredible new direct image of an exoplanet, a faraway dust disk, and a picture of Jupiter’s moon Europa - a mind-blowing accomplishment for an instrument’s first day. Expect plenty of your favorite exoplanet beauty shots in the future to be taken by this remarkable new instrument.

Big storms on brown dwarfs

Brown Dwarf StormsBrown dwarfs may have storms that put the Great Red Spot to shame.

Failed stars that didn’t quite make it to fusion status, brown dwarfs are an enigma of exoplanet-hunting that remain shrouded in mystery.

But a new Spitzer observation has given scientists some insights into the weather - and it’s anything but docile.

Astronomers think that these massive worlds - many times the size of Jupiter - are the site of huge storms even bigger and stronger than the Great Red Spot, with lightning to match. They came to this conclusion after observing brightness variations of several brown dwarfs with Spitzer - suggesting the movement of massive clouds of gas.