Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Star


Hot methane spectra are important in environments ranging from flames to the atmospheres of cool stars and exoplanets. A new spectroscopic line list, 10to10, for (12)CH4 containing almost 10 billion transitions is presented. This comprehensive line list covers a broad spectroscopic range and is applicable for temperatures up to 1,500 K. Previous methane data are incomplete, leading to underestimated opacities at short wavelengths and elevated temperatures. Use of 10to10 in models of the bright T4.5 brown dwarf 2MASS 0559-14 leads to significantly better agreement with observations and in studies of the hot Jupiter exoplanet HD 189733b leads to up to a 20-fold increase in methane abundance. It is demonstrated that proper inclusion of the huge increase in hot transitions which are important at elevated temperatures is crucial for accurate characterizations of atmospheres of brown dwarfs and exoplanets, especially when observed in the near-infrared.

Concepts: Planet, Star, Jupiter, Gas giant, Extrasolar planet, Brown dwarf, HD 209458 b, 51 Pegasi b


One aim of modern astronomy is to detect temperate, Earth-like exoplanets that are well suited for atmospheric characterization. Recently, three Earth-sized planets were detected that transit (that is, pass in front of) a star with a mass just eight per cent that of the Sun, located 12 parsecs away. The transiting configuration of these planets, combined with the Jupiter-like size of their host star-named TRAPPIST-1-makes possible in-depth studies of their atmospheric properties with present-day and future astronomical facilities. Here we report the results of a photometric monitoring campaign of that star from the ground and space. Our observations reveal that at least seven planets with sizes and masses similar to those of Earth revolve around TRAPPIST-1. The six inner planets form a near-resonant chain, such that their orbital periods (1.51, 2.42, 4.04, 6.06, 9.1 and 12.35 days) are near-ratios of small integers. This architecture suggests that the planets formed farther from the star and migrated inwards. Moreover, the seven planets have equilibrium temperatures low enough to make possible the presence of liquid water on their surfaces.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, Planet, Mars, Mercury, Star, Gas giant, Terrestrial planet


Studies of galaxy surveys in the context of the cold dark matter paradigm have shown that the mass of the dark matter halo and the total stellar mass are coupled through a function that varies smoothly with mass. Their average ratio Mhalo/Mstarshas a minimum of about 30 for galaxies with stellar masses near that of the Milky Way (approximately 5 × 1010solar masses) and increases both towards lower masses and towards higher masses. The scatter in this relation is not well known; it is generally thought to be less than a factor of two for massive galaxies but much larger for dwarf galaxies. Here we report the radial velocities of ten luminous globular-cluster-like objects in the ultra-diffuse galaxy NGC1052-DF2, which has a stellar mass of approximately 2 × 108solar masses. We infer that its velocity dispersion is less than 10.5 kilometres per second with 90 per cent confidence, and we determine from this that its total mass within a radius of 7.6 kiloparsecs is less than 3.4 × 108solar masses. This implies that the ratio Mhalo/Mstarsis of order unity (and consistent with zero), a factor of at least 400 lower than expected. NGC1052-DF2 demonstrates that dark matter is not always coupled with baryonic matter on galactic scales.

Concepts: Galaxy, Mass, Star, Dark matter, Milky Way, Andromeda Galaxy, Baryon, Parsec


At a distance of 1.295 parsecs, the red dwarf Proxima Centauri (α Centauri C, GL 551, HIP 70890 or simply Proxima) is the Sun’s closest stellar neighbour and one of the best-studied low-mass stars. It has an effective temperature of only around 3,050 kelvin, a luminosity of 0.15 per cent of that of the Sun, a measured radius of 14 per cent of the radius of the Sun and a mass of about 12 per cent of the mass of the Sun. Although Proxima is considered a moderately active star, its rotation period is about 83 days (ref. 3) and its quiescent activity levels and X-ray luminosity are comparable to those of the Sun. Here we report observations that reveal the presence of a small planet with a minimum mass of about 1.3 Earth masses orbiting Proxima with a period of approximately 11.2 days at a semi-major-axis distance of around 0.05 astronomical units. Its equilibrium temperature is within the range where water could be liquid on its surface.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, Planet, Star, Astronomical unit, Proxima Centauri, Stellar classification, Red dwarf


Star-like objects with effective temperatures of less than 2,700 kelvin are referred to as ‘ultracool dwarfs’. This heterogeneous group includes stars of extremely low mass as well as brown dwarfs (substellar objects not massive enough to sustain hydrogen fusion), and represents about 15 per cent of the population of astronomical objects near the Sun. Core-accretion theory predicts that, given the small masses of these ultracool dwarfs, and the small sizes of their protoplanetary disks, there should be a large but hitherto undetected population of terrestrial planets orbiting them-ranging from metal-rich Mercury-sized planets to more hospitable volatile-rich Earth-sized planets. Here we report observations of three short-period Earth-sized planets transiting an ultracool dwarf star only 12 parsecs away. The inner two planets receive four times and two times the irradiation of Earth, respectively, placing them close to the inner edge of the habitable zone of the star. Our data suggest that 11 orbits remain possible for the third planet, the most likely resulting in irradiation significantly less than that received by Earth. The infrared brightness of the host star, combined with its Jupiter-like size, offers the possibility of thoroughly characterizing the components of this nearby planetary system.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, Solar System, Planet, Star, Terrestrial planet, Extrasolar planet, Brown dwarf


Simulations predict that hot super-Earth sized exoplanets can have their envelopes stripped by photoevaporation, which would present itself as a lack of these exoplanets. However, this absence in the exoplanet population has escaped a firm detection. Here we demonstrate, using asteroseismology on a sample of exoplanets and exoplanet candidates observed during the Kepler mission that, while there is an abundance of super-Earth sized exoplanets with low incident fluxes, none are found with high incident fluxes. We do not find any exoplanets with radii between 2.2 and 3.8 Earth radii with incident flux above 650 times the incident flux on Earth. This gap in the population of exoplanets is explained by evaporation of volatile elements and thus supports the predictions. The confirmation of a hot-super-Earth desert caused by evaporation will add an important constraint on simulations of planetary systems, since they must be able to reproduce the dearth of close-in super-Earths.

Concepts: Scientific method, Planet, Star, Terrestrial planet, Extrasolar planet, Kepler Mission, COROT, Super-Earth


The quest for Earth-like planets is a major focus of current exoplanet research. Although planets that are Earth-sized and smaller have been detected, these planets reside in orbits that are too close to their host star to allow liquid water on their surfaces. We present the detection of Kepler-186f, a 1.11 ± 0.14 Earth-radius planet that is the outermost of five planets, all roughly Earth-sized, that transit a 0.47 ± 0.05 solar-radius star. The intensity and spectrum of the star’s radiation place Kepler-186f in the stellar habitable zone, implying that if Kepler-186f has an Earth-like atmosphere and water at its surface, then some of this water is likely to be in liquid form.

Concepts: Planet, Mars, Mercury, Star, Gas giant, Terrestrial planet, Extrasolar planet, Habitable zone


The nature of the spiral structure of the Milky Way has long been debated. Only in the last decade have astronomers been able to accurately measure distances to a substantial number of high-mass star-forming regions, the classic tracers of spiral structure in galaxies. We report distance measurements at radio wavelengths using the Very Long Baseline Array for eight regions of massive star formation near the Local spiral arm of the Milky Way. Combined with previous measurements, these observations reveal that the Local Arm is larger than previously thought, and both its pitch angle and star formation rate are comparable to those of the Galaxy’s major spiral arms, such as Sagittarius and Perseus. Toward the constellation Cygnus, sources in the Local Arm extend for a great distance along our line of sight and roughly along the solar orbit. Because of this orientation, these sources cluster both on the sky and in velocity to form the complex and long enigmatic Cygnus X region. We also identify a spur that branches between the Local and Sagittarius spiral arms.

Concepts: Galaxy, Sun, Solar System, Star, Interstellar medium, Spiral galaxy, Milky Way, Star formation


The existence of a ‘density cusp’-a localized increase in number-of stellar-mass black holes near a supermassive black hole is a fundamental prediction of galactic stellar dynamics. The best place to detect such a cusp is in the Galactic Centre, where the nearest supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*, resides. As many as 20,000 black holes are predicted to settle into the central parsec of the Galaxy as a result of dynamical friction; however, so far no density cusp of black holes has been detected. Low-mass X-ray binary systems that contain a stellar-mass black hole are natural tracers of isolated black holes. Here we report observations of a dozen quiescent X-ray binaries in a density cusp within one parsec of Sagittarius A*. The lower-energy emission spectra that we observed in these binaries is distinct from the higher-energy spectra associated with the population of accreting white dwarfs that dominates the central eight parsecs of the Galaxy. The properties of these X-ray binaries, in particular their spatial distribution and luminosity function, suggest the existence of hundreds of binary systems in the central parsec of the Galaxy and many more isolated black holes. We cannot rule out a contribution to the observed emission from a population (of up to about one-half the number of X-ray binaries) of rotationally powered, millisecond pulsars. The spatial distribution of the binary systems is a relic of their formation history, either in the stellar disk around Sagittarius A* (ref. 7) or through in-fall from globular clusters, and constrains the number density of sources in the modelling of gravitational waves from massive stellar remnants, such as neutron stars and black holes.

Concepts: Black hole, White dwarf, Star, Supermassive black hole, Milky Way, Globular cluster, Galactic Center, Neutron star


The amount of ultraviolet irradiation and ablation experienced by a planet depends strongly on the temperature of its host star. Of the thousands of extrasolar planets now known, only six have been found that transit hot, A-type stars (with temperatures of 7,300-10,000 kelvin), and no planets are known to transit the even hotter B-type stars. For example, WASP-33 is an A-type star with a temperature of about 7,430 kelvin, which hosts the hottest known transiting planet, WASP-33b (ref. 1); the planet is itself as hot as a red dwarf star of type M (ref. 2). WASP-33b displays a large heat differential between its dayside and nightside, and is highly inflated-traits that have been linked to high insolation. However, even at the temperature of its dayside, its atmosphere probably resembles the molecule-dominated atmospheres of other planets and, given the level of ultraviolet irradiation it experiences, its atmosphere is unlikely to be substantially ablated over the lifetime of its star. Here we report observations of the bright star HD 195689 (also known as KELT-9), which reveal a close-in (orbital period of about 1.48 days) transiting giant planet, KELT-9b. At approximately 10,170 kelvin, the host star is at the dividing line between stars of type A and B, and we measure the dayside temperature of KELT-9b to be about 4,600 kelvin. This is as hot as stars of stellar type K4 (ref. 5). The molecules in K stars are entirely dissociated, and so the primary sources of opacity in the dayside atmosphere of KELT-9b are probably atomic metals. Furthermore, KELT-9b receives 700 times more extreme-ultraviolet radiation (that is, with wavelengths shorter than 91.2 nanometres) than WASP-33b, leading to a predicted range of mass-loss rates that could leave the planet largely stripped of its envelope during the main-sequence lifetime of the host star.

Concepts: Sun, Planet, White dwarf, Star, Jupiter, Gas giant, Extrasolar planet, Brown dwarf