Air & Space Magazine 17 Jan 2019, 20:30 UTC Astrobiologist Alberto Fairén of Cornell University and the Center of Astrobiology in Madrid, Spain, asks a provocative question in a paper published recently in EOS: How will our exploration of Mars change the Red Planet? The term Anthropocene has been widely used for the current period in Earth’s geological history, in which human actions have had enough impact on the planet that we see a clear distinction from the previous period, the Holocene. The geological signatures of that transition include a variety of features such as the extinction of many animal and plant species, an increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (resulting in global warming), deposition of plastic in sediments, movements of soil from mining, and the construction of highways, dams, and residential areas.
Centauri Dreams 17 Jan 2019, 17:55 UTC Barnard’s Star b, the planet announced last November around the second nearest star system to the Earth, has been the subject of intensive study by an international team led by Ignasi Ribas at the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia (IEEC), and Institute of Space Sciences (ICE, CSIC). As announced at the recent meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, the work helps to refine the age of Barnard’s Star and examines its potential for supporting life on its known planet.
Starts With a Bang! 17 Jan 2019, 15:01 UTC It’s been nearly a decade since NASA’s Kepler mission first launched. Beginning in 2009, the Kepler spacecraft watched hundreds of thousands of stars within our own galaxy, measuring the total amount of light output for each one and searching for any minuscule changes. By mission’s end, Kepler and its add-on mission, K2, had discovered thousands of new planets around stars beyond our own, including a significant number of Earth-sized, potentially habitable worlds. If Kepler showed us that our galaxy was full of planets, then its successor mission, TESS — the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite — will reveal the transiting worlds around the closest stars to our own. If there’s an Earth-like world that passes in front of its parent star relative to our line-of-sight, TESS will reveal it. For the first time, we’ll be sensitive to the “holy grail” of planets right in our own backyard.
Sky and Telescope 16 Jan 2019, 15:50 UTC A cosmic lens has magnified light from a distant quasar, making it shine with brightness of 600 trillion Suns, astronomers report in a study published in the January 9th Astrophysical Journal Letters. That makes it “the brightest object in cosmic dawn,” says study author Xiaohui Fan (University of Arizona), and it’s giving astronomers an unprecedented look at the formation of supermassive black holes and their galaxies in the early universe.
Bad Astronomy 16 Jan 2019, 14:00 UTC New observations of a young, nearby red dwarf star indicate that any planets forming there may get scoured clean of water and other materials before they even get a chance to cool down after forming. If this is the case, it implies that life on these kinds of planets may be more rare than we first thought. Given that planets around red dwarfs are probably the most common in the Universe, this news, well, kinda sucks.