NASA’s new Hubble eBook takes readers on a journey to curious worlds

This artist’s concept shows the seven Earth-sized planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system. Hubble has studied many of the planets’ atmospheres and found that they may support life as we know it, although follow-up observations are needed to confirm this finding. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech This e-book is part of a series called Hubble Focus, which features some of Hubble’s recent cosmic discoveries. Its cover, pictured here, features an illustration of the hot planet Kepler-13Ab orbiting extremely close to its host star, Kepler-13A, which is part of a multiple star system. The star’s companions, Kepler-13B and the small red-orange dwarf Kepler-13C, are in the background. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope team has released a new edition of the Hubble Focus e-book series, titled “Hubble Focus: Strange New Worlds”. This e-book highlights the mission’s recent discoveries about worlds outside our solar system, known as exoplanets.

“The Hubble Space Telescope is once again opening our eyes to an incredible universe, this time to the nature of extraterrestrial worlds,” said Jennifer Wiseman, Hubble Project Senior Scientist at NASA. “These are impressive achievements considering that when Hubble was designed and launched, no exoplanets had yet been discovered.”

Strange Worlds and Other Lands

For thousands of years people believed that the Earth was fixed at the center of the universe and that all other celestial objects revolved around our planet. But over time it became clear that the Earth did not occupy such a special position. People began to see that Earth might not be as unique as they thought. Some even wondered if there could be planets surrounding other stars.

To date, astronomers have discovered more than 5,000 exoplanets. While astronomers initially expected to find systems similar to ours, most of the early exoplanets they discovered were wild and exotic compared to our solar system. Hubble’s studies of exoplanets continue to help expand our view of planetary systems by revealing even more weird balls, often by studying the chemistry of their atmospheres using spectroscopy – the study of information encoded in light.

Spectroscopic observations from Hubble have revealed withered worlds shrinking as they lose their atmosphere in space, and planets in bizarre orbits. But the observatory has also revealed worlds closer to ours. Hubble has studied the atmospheres of exoplanets and found several containing water vapor, an essential ingredient for life as we know it. Some of these worlds even orbit within their star’s habitable zone, which is the range of orbital distances where temperatures are mild enough for liquid water to accumulate on planetary surfaces. “Hubble has given us a wealth of information about the variety that exists among exoplanets, probing the composition of their atmospheres and discovering exotic weather patterns not seen anywhere on Earth or even anywhere else in our solar system,” said Hubble Exploitation Project Scientist Ken Carpenter. at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “He has also conducted an extremely critical exploration of the relationship between these exoplanets and their host stars and how it determines the conditions on planetary surfaces that influence their habitability. Hubble has shown us that even stars different from our sun can harbor habitable worlds and thereby expand our search for life elsewhere in the galaxy.”

Alien weather and stellar relationships

Earth exhibits a wide range of weather conditions, from rolling thunderstorms to sunny skies to blizzards. Thanks to Hubble, astronomers have learned the weather of certain exoplanets, including molten iron rain, amber skies and even sunscreen-like snow showers. Future observations could reveal more information about what determines the weather of exoplanets, including their relationships with their host stars.

If our own host star, the sun, were just a little hotter or cooler, or if it were much older or younger, Earth might not be habitable. Hubble has helped astronomers explore other planet-star relationships, offering clues to their evolution and informing our search for habitable worlds. The observatory has even revealed a world with two suns and studied different types of stars to explore which ones are most conducive to life.

While sun-like stars may be the most obvious targets to search for habitable planets, Hubble revealed that orange dwarfs – smaller and cooler than our yellow-white sun, but larger and hotter than red dwarfs – might offer better odds. These stars are neither too hot, nor too cold, nor too violent to host planets suitable for life over vast stretches of cosmic time. Future Hubble observations will continue to help focus our search for habitable worlds, bringing us ever closer to the possibility of finding life on other planets.

Disc Dwellers

New stars form in the Milky Way from swirling clouds of gas and dust that dot our galaxy. Remnants of these clouds remain, surrounding each star in a disk that becomes increasingly diffuse as the debris clumps together to form planet-like objects. Hubble’s studies of exoplanets have largely focused on the planets themselves, but surprises sometimes appear in the disks in which these planets are embedded.

Hubble has seen an ominous shadow sweep across a star’s surrounding disk, studied comets that a planet’s gravity throws at its star, and watched a growing planet gobble up material. The observatory has even offered clues to the mystery of why there are so few planets between the sizes of Earth and Neptune. Hubble will continue to reveal new information about the worlds that grace our galaxy for years to come, providing clues to the formation and evolution of our own solar system along the way.

As the fourth edition in the series, this e-book builds on the wealth of information shared in previous versions, which focused on the solar system, stars, and galaxies. Future editions will focus on other cosmic topics, such as dark matter and dark energy, two unseen cosmic mysteries that make up the majority of our universe.

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More information:
ePub format (120 MB): … lanets_june2022.epub

PDF format (5 MB): … planets_june2022.pdf

Provided by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

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