Saturday morning astronomy news roundup

(Technically, it’s afternoon here, but close enough.)

An “Earth cousin” has been found orbiting a star 500 light-years away. The exoplanet is a little bigger than Earth, and its parent star is smaller and not as bright as the Sun, but it’s the closest to an “Earth twin” astronomers have ever found. The planet is in what’s called the habitable zone, meaning it’s the right distance from its star to potentially have water on its surface, a necessary ingredient for life. (But necessary doesn’t always mean sufficient: see RTB’s comments on exoplanets and arguments for design.)

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) has crash-landed onto the Moon, likely vaporizing on impact. LADEE had been studying the very thin atmosphere on the Moon since last November, sending data back to Earth via a laser-based system that’s much faster than previous communications systems. Since LADEE’s mission was over, it was allowed to crash, striking the Moon’s surface at 3600 mph.