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Researchers Confirm Exoplanet Has Clouds Using Hubble Telescope 62

Exoplanet GJ 1214 b was discovered in 2009 by the MEarth project. Researchers now have strong evidence that it has an atmosphere. "[A] team of astronomers led by UChicago's Laura Kreidberg and Jacob Bean have detected clear evidence of clouds in the atmosphere of GJ 1214b from data collected with the Hubble Space Telescope. The Hubble observations used 96 hours of telescope time spread over 11 months. This was the largest Hubble program ever devoted to studying a single exoplanet. ... The first spectra, which were obtained by Bean in 2010 using a ground-based telescope, suggested that the planet's atmosphere either was predominantly water vapor or hydrogen-dominated with high-altitude clouds. ... More precise Hubble observations made in 2012 and 2013 allowed the team to distinguish between these two scenarios. ... The best explanation for the new data is that there are high-altitude clouds in the atmosphere of the planet, though their composition is unknown. Models of super-Earth atmospheres predict clouds could be made out of potassium chloride or zinc sulfide at the scorching temperatures of 450 degrees Fahrenheit found on GJ 1214b."

Mystery Alignment of Planetary Nebulae Discovered 86

astroengine writes "Astronomers have discovered something weird in the Milky Way's galactic bulge — a population of planetary nebula are all mysteriously pointing in the same direction. They noticed the mysterious alignment in the long axes of bipolar planetary nebulae. 'This really is a surprising find and, if it holds true, a very important one,' said Bryan Rees of the University of Manchester, co-author of the paper (PDF) to appear in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 'Many of these ghostly butterflies appear to have their long axes aligned along the plane of our galaxy.' The team of astronomers, who used data from Hubble and the European Southern Observatory's New Technology Telescope (NTT) to survey 130 nebulae, posit that powerful magnetic fields may be behind the phenomenon."

Hubble Discovers 'Planetary Graveyard' Around White Dwarf 26

astroengine send this interesting excerpt from Discovery: "The Hubble Space Telescope has discovered rocky remains of planetary material 'polluting' the atmospheres of two white dwarfs — a sign that these stars likely have (or had) planetary systems and that asteroids are currently being shredded by extreme tidal forces. Although white dwarfs with polluted atmospheres have been observed before, this is the first time evidence of planetary systems have been discovered in stars belonging to a relatively young cluster of stars. 'We have identified chemical evidence for the building blocks of rocky planets,' said Jay Farihi of the University of Cambridge in a Hubble news release. 'When these stars were born, they built planets, and there's a good chance that they currently retain some of them. The signs of rocky debris we are seeing are evidence of this — it is at least as rocky as the most primitive terrestrial bodies in our Solar System.'"

The Deepest Picture of the Universe Ever Taken: the Hubble Extreme Deep Field 185

The Bad Astronomer writes "Astronomers have unveiled what may be the deepest image of the Universe ever created: the Hubble Extreme Deep Field, a 2 million second exposure that reveals galaxies over 13 billion light years away. The faintest galaxies in the images are at magnitude 31, or one-ten-billionth as bright as the faintest object your naked eye can detect. Some are seen as they were when they were only 500 million years old."

"Survey says..." -- Richard Dawson, weenie, on "Family Feud"