NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope team has released a new edition in the Hubble Focus e-book series, called “Hubble Focus: Strange New Worlds.” This e-book highlights the mission’s recent discoveries about worlds outside our solar system, known as exoplanets. The vast majority of these worlds are not in the goldilocks zone, but are exotic and strange. The book looks at some of the weirdest and what we know about the composition and even weather patterns. To date, astronomers have found more than 5,000 exoplanets.
For thousands of years, people believed Earth was fixed at the center of the universe and that every other celestial object revolved around our planet. But over time, it became clear that Earth did not occupy such a special position. People began to see that perhaps Earth was not as unique as they thought. Some even wondered if there might be planets circling other stars.
The book comprises of many of the findings the Hubble Space Telescope has taken over the past decade and likely they will issue a new one, once the James Web Telescope is all calibrated and actually taking pictures
Hubble’s spectroscopic observations have unveiled withering worlds that dwindle as they lose their atmospheres to space, and planets in bizarre orbits. But the observatory has also revealed worlds that are more similar to our own. Hubble has studied exoplanets’ atmospheres and found several that contain 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 that liquid water could pool on planetary surfaces. “Hubble has provided us with a wealth of information on the variety that exists among exoplanets, probing the composition of their atmospheres and discovering exotic weather seen nowhere on Earth or even elsewhere in our solar system,” said Ken Carpenter, Hubble’s operations project scientist based at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. “It has also carried out an extremely critical exploration of relationship between these exoplanets and their host stars and how it drives conditions on the planetary surfaces that influence their habitability. Hubble has shown us that even stars unlike our Sun may harbor habitable worlds and thus broadened our search for life elsewhere in the galaxy.”
Earth exhibits a wide range of weather, from rolling thunderstorms to sunny skies to blizzards. Thanks to Hubble, astronomers have learned about the weather some exoplanets experience, including molten iron rain, amber skies, and even sunscreen-like snow flurries. Future observations could reveal more information about what drives exoplanets’ weather, including their relationships with their host stars.
Michael Kozlowski has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.