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Timing the Shadow of a Potentially Habitable Extrasolar Planet Paves the Way to Search for Alien Life

A group of researchers from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), the University of Tokyo, and the Astrobiology Center among others has observed the transit of a potentially Earth-like extrasolar planet known as K2-3d using the MuSCAT instrument on the Okayama Astrophysical Observatory 188-cm telescope. A transit is a phenomenon in which a planet passes in front of its parent star, blocking a small amount of light from the star, like a shadow of the planet. While transits have previously been observed for thousands of other extrasolar planets, K2-3d is important because there is a possibility that it might harbor extraterrestrial life.

Subaru-HiCIAO Spots Young Stars Surreptitiously Gluttonizing Their Birth Clouds

An international team led by researchers at the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASIAA) has used a new infrared imaging technique to reveal dramatic moments in star and planet formation. These seem to occur when surrounding material falls toward very active baby stars, which then feed voraciously on it even as they remain hidden inside their birth clouds. The team used the HiCIAO (High Contrast Instrument for the Subaru Next-Generation Adaptive Optics) camera on the Subaru 8-meter Telescope in Hawaii to observe a set of newborn stars. The results of their work shed new light on our understanding of how stars and planets are born.

Oxygen is not Definitive Evidence of Life on Habitable Extrasolar Planets

The Earth’s atmosphere contains oxygen because plants continuously produce it through photosynthesis. This abundant supply of oxygen allows life forms like animals to flourish. Therefore, oxygen had been thought to be an essential biomarker for life on extrasolar planets. But now, a research assistant professor Norio Narita of the Astrobiology Center of NINS, which was founded in April 2015, and an associate professor Shigeyuki Masaoka, of the Institute of Molecular Science of NINS, have presented a novel hypothesis that it could be possible for planets to have large quantities of abiotic (non-biologically produced) oxygen. This study is a good example of interdisciplinary studies that combine knowledge from different fields of science to promote astrobiology in the search for life on extrasolar planets. The study is published in Scientific Reports on Sep 10, 2015.

TW Hya disk

Discovery of Multiple Ring-Like Gaps in a Protoplanetary Disk

The Strategic Exploration of Exoplanets and Disks (SEEDS, Note 1) team of astronomers, led by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), has found a close-in ring-like gap in the protoplanetary disk of gas and dust around the nearby sun-like young star, TW Hydrae (TW Hya). New Subaru Telescope images of the gap, including an earlier ring-like gap found by Hubble Space Telescope, suggest that ongoing planet formation is occurring in the disk, and provides a good picture of how the early formation of our own solar system might have looked.


Blue Light Observations Indicate Water-Rich Atmosphere of a Super-Earth

A Japanese research team of astronomers and planetary scientists has used Subaru Telescope's two optical cameras, Suprime-Cam and the Faint Object Camera and Spectrograph (FOCAS), with a blue transmission filter to observe planetary transits of super-Earth GJ 1214 b (Gilese 1214 b).