The Cosmic Companion February 22, 2020

This week: Aurora around a star, a newly-discovered super-Earth, and a novel method of finding ET. PLUS a look at how first contact may happen, and we launch a new comic strip and website!

Hello everyone!

In this week's episode of Astronomy News with The Cosmic Companion, we take a look at aurora seen around a star for the first time, a new super-Earth is discovered just 100 light years from Earth, and Penn State researchers search for alien civilizations that may have already found life on our own world.

Then, with the recent success of the latest installment of Star Trek, the new CBS All Access series Picard, we take a look at how first contact with an alien civilization may be similar to — or different from — the way these meetings are portrayed in science fiction.

We also introduce our first all-original comic strip, Max on Mars. This new weekly strip follows the adventures of Max, a lovable tabby cat who finds himself accidentally sent to Mars. The first installment can be seen below, and follow Max every week at!

As if that weren’t enough, The Cosmic Companion now has a new website! All our articles will still be available at, but you can also now get article headlines, together with every episode of the current seasons of our weekly video series and podcast, comics, information about our show on Amazon Alexa and more at! Please take a look, and let us know what you think of the new resource.

Remember that the Cosmic Companion also offers a premium newsletter, featuring weekly exclusive videos, the astronomy comic of the week, and more. Just $5 a month, or $50 a year! Sign up at:

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Let’s take off!

The Week in Space

Aurora Like Northern Lights Dance in Nearby Solar System

By James Maynard

Astronomers reveal aurorae happening between a star and exoplanet in the GJ 1151 star system — one of the closest stars to Earth.

Aurora around the red dwarf star GJ 1151 is triggered by the passing of an airless world, roughly the size of Earth, orbiting its star once every few days. Image credit: Simulation by The Cosmic Companion/Created in Universe Sandbox.

For the first time ever, astronomers have observed aurora occurring around a small red dwarf star called GJ 1151, less than 27 light years from Earth. This exo-aurora, triggered by a planet with a mass similar to our own world, is not unlike what is seen on Earth as northern and southern lights. This discovery marks the first physical evidence that aurora can be produced by interactions between the magnetic fields of stars and their attendant worlds.

Using the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) radio telescope in the Netherlands, researchers found evidence of these interactions on exoplanets. Astronomers have long theorized that aurora would be produced on exoplanets, just as they are seen on Earth and other worlds of our Solar System. This discovery could open up new techniques for studying planets orbiting alien stars, and may even provide information about whether or not such worlds may be home to extraterrestrial life.

Read more:

Super-Earth G 9–40b Confirmed Using Habitable-Zone Planet Finder

By James Maynard

The discovery of a super-Earth exoplanet has been confirmed in the G 9–40 star system. What do we know about this alien world?

A simulation showing G 9–40b orbiting its parent star. Simulation by The Cosmic Companion/Created in Universe Sandbox.

Originally discovered by the Kepler space telescope, G 9–40b has just been confirmed as an exoplanet by a team of Penn State researchers using the Habitable-zone Planet Finder (HPF) located in Texas.

This world, G 9–40b, is at least twice as large as Earth, and is likely significantly larger — possibly closer to the size of Neptune. It orbits its parent star just 100 light years from Earth once every five days and 17 hours at a distance of 5,760,000 km (5,580,000 miles), roughly 25 times closer than the distance between the Earth and Sun.

Read more:

Searching for Aliens Who may be Looking for Us

By James Maynard

A new search for extraterrestrial civilizations sets its sights on worlds that may have already found us.

Since just after the birth of radio astronomy, researchers have scoured the skies, looking for intelligent civilizations on other worlds. Now, a new search is looking to find extraterrestrials who have already discovered life on Earth.

Exoplanets — worlds beyond our solar system — are often discovered as they pass “in front” of their sun as seen from Earth. This process, known as transit photometry, measures the minuscule dips in light recorded from a star as a planet passes between its parent star and the Earth. This technique can not only detect planets, but also allows astronomers to learn more about their atmospheres, and could help us detect life on those worlds.

Read more:

On Tuesday, March 3rd, I will interview Sofia Sheikh of Penn State University, lead researcher on this study. A preview of the interview will be available on the video version of Astronomy News with The Cosmic Companion that week, and the full interview will be available on the podcast version of this show, available wherever you get your podcasts.

Astro POP

Alien Invasions and Diplomatic Missions — What First Contact in Fiction Tells us about Reality

By Jennifer R. Povey

Stories of first contact with alien intelligence have been seen in science fiction books, television shows, and movies for decades. But, what will it be like when it actually happens?

The prospect of contacting sentient aliens is a staple of science fiction. Of course, we have yet to (knowingly) find any; and it’s not impossible (albeit unlikely) that we are the only sentient beings in the universe.

Still, speculating about how contact with an alien race might go is something we tend to enjoy. Here are some fictional first contact scenarios and some thoughts on whether they are, at all, plausible.

Read more:

Cosmic Comics

Max on Mars

Alright, you all just skipped down to the comic, didn’t you? It’s OK, I don’t blame you (I’d do the same thing myself, but don’t tell anyone)…

Presenting Max on Mars - a new weekly comic from The Cosmic Companion!

Max on Mars follows the adventures of a cat who finds himself accidentally sent to Mars. What will he do? How will he live? Are there crunchy chicken treats available on the Red Planet?

Read more adventures of this interplanetary kitty at!

Read more stories at

Coming soon: The First Woman on the Moon: The Past and Future History of Women in Space by James Maynard

Thanks for reading!

On next week’s episode of Astronomy News with the Cosmic Companion, I will interview Sofia Sheikh of Penn State University, lead researcher on the new study searching for extraterrestrial intelligence that could have easily found life on Earth. The full interview will be heard on our podcast, and excerpts will also be made available on the video version of the show. Make sure to listen to this fun, informative episode!

You can listen to our new podcast, Astronomy News with The Cosmic Companion, available on all major podcast distributors, including iTunes, Spotify, and TuneIn! Or, tune in at: And, don’t forget to add Astronomy News with The Cosmic Companion to your flash briefings on Amazon Alexa!

If you want to keep up with the latest updates and news about astronomy and space exploration, visit, for information about our weekly video show, podcast, comics, mailing list, and more, visit our new website at:

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Thanks for everything and I will see you next week!

Astronomy - Don’t Leave Home Without It!

- James

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