Image: This artist’s conception shows a hypothetical habitable planet with two moons orbiting a red dwarf star. Astronomers have found that 6 percent of all red dwarf stars have an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone, which is warm enough for liquid water on the planet’s surface. Since red dwarf stars are so common, then statistically the closest Earth-like planet should be only 13 light-years away. Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)

After Huntsville, a Red Dwarf Bonanza


Returning from Huntsville after the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop, I was catching up on emails at the airport when the latest news about exoplanets and red dwarfs popped up on CNN. It was heartening to look around the Huntsville airport and see that people who had been reading or using their computers were all looking up at the screen and following the CNN story, which was no more than a thirty second summary. The interest in exoplanets is out there and may bode good things for public engagement in space matters. At least let’s hope so.

The workshop was a great success, and congratulations are owed to Les Johnson, Robert Kennedy, Eric Hughes and the entire team that made this happen (a special nod to Martha Knowles and Yohon Lo!). This morning I want to focus on the exoplanet news as a way of getting back on schedule, but tomorrow I’ll start going through my notes and talking about the Huntsville gathering. I’m hoping to have several articles in coming weeks from participants in the event on the work they are doing, and I have plenty of comments about the presentations, so the Huntsville coverage that begins tomorrow should extend into next week.

As to the exoplanet news, Courtney Dressing (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) went to work on the Kepler catalog of 158,000 stars to cull out all the red dwarfs. She and the CfA’s David Charbonneau found that almost all of the identified stars were smaller and cooler than had been thought, which has the effect of lowering the size of the detected planets. An additional result is to move the habitable zone somewhat further in. The duo could find 95 planet candidates among these red dwarfs.

Read more: After Huntsville, a Red Dwarf Bonanza — Centauri Dreams.

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