Sarah Blunt, REU student class of 2015, is today a full member of the Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey. Together with SETI researcher Eric Nielsen and Franck Marchis, she has developed an innovative method to fit the orbits of directly imaged exoplanets. She has published her work in Astronomical Journal and is a recipient of an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship that will fund her graduate school. Here her story. (more…)
Today, NASA-funded scientists announced a major new step in the search for life on Enceladus, Saturn’s sixth-largest moon, thanks to new data collected by the NASA/ESA Cassini mission.
Enceladus has attracted a lot of interest because it has an active pole that spews jets of material into outer space. During its last flyby over that pole, an instrument on board the Cassini spacecraft detected the presence of a biomarker—molecular hydrogen. This suggests that the ocean we know lies beneath the moon’s surface could indeed contain an ecosystem similar to the ones we find in deep-sea hydrothermal vents on Earth. (more…)
In May 2016, Michael Gillon and his team announced the discovery of three Earth-sized exoplanets around TRAPPIST-1, an ultra cool M-dwarf star, using the small TRAPPIST telescope at ESO-La Silla, Chile. It was an exciting discovery—yet on that day no one could possibly have imagined that less than a year later they would make another significant discovery involving the same system. But here we are: today, they announced in Nature the discovery of seven potentially habitable Earth-like worlds.
The star, named TRAPPIST-1, is a fairly inconspicuous star in our Milky Way. Small (8% the mass of the sun) and cold (half the temperature of the sun), it is a member of an ultra-cool dwarf population that represents 15% of the star population of our galaxy. In 2016, Gillon and his team detected the transit (i.e., the shadow of a planet passing between its host star and us) of three exoplanets at the inner edge of the habitable zone of their star.
Using a combination of space telescope data, as well as recent data acquired with the SOFIA Airborne telescope and lab experiments, a team of astronomers including researchers from the SETI Institute and Jet Propulsion Laboratory have revealed the presence of dust of exogenic origin at the surface of dwarf planet Ceres. This contamination likely stems from a dust cloud formed in the outer part of the main belt of asteroids following a collision in recent times. That study challenges the relationship proposed between Ceres and asteroids in the C spectral class and instead suggests an origin of this dwarf planet in the transneptunian region. This study was published on January 19 2017 in Astronomical Journal.
I co-organized a session for the AGU 2016 meeting entitled “P42A: Solar System Small Bodies: Asteroids, Satellites, Comets, Pluto, and Charon“. Below the info on the session and the schedule.
We have three invited talks that will describe the New Horizons data of Charon, color of Kuiper Belt Object from a ground-based survey and a theoretical study of the formation of the asteroid belt.
Abstract: The composition and physical properties of Small Solar System Bodies
(SSSBs), asteroids and dwarf planets, remnants of the formation of planets, are key to better understand our solar system. Increased knowledge of their surface properties and their potential as resources are also necessary to prepare for robotic and human
exploration. Hints about the internal structure and composition of SSSBs
have been acquired recently thanks to flyby/rendezvous data from space
missions, study of complex multiple asteroid systems, or close encounter
between asteroids. In this session we will discuss results bringing
information on the internal structure and composition of SSSBs based on
space and ground-based data, numerical models, as well as instrument/mission
concepts in the prospect of future exploration. (more…)
AGU Fall meeting is starting tomorrow. I co-organized a session entitled “Detection and Direct Imaging of Habitable Exoplanets: Progress and Future” to discuss the potential of new and future facilities and modeling efforts designed to detect, image and characterize habitable exoplanets, studying their formation, evolution and also the existence of possible biospheres. Topics that are covered in this session include signs of exoplanet habitability and global biosignatures that can be sought with upcoming instrumentation; instrument requirements and technologies to detect these markers; strategies for target selection and prioritization; and impacts of planetary system properties, ground-based and space telescope architectures.
We have two invited talks, one by George Ricker on TESS and a second one by Shawn D Domagal-Goldman on HabEx, two NASA missions that could play a major role on identification and characterization of Earth-Like exoplanets.
It was a tough night … one in which any dreams we may have had of “American exceptionalism” were crushed.
Instead of serving, as it has so nobly, for more than two centuries as a beacon of hope and light to people everywhere, this nation will instead see our first African-American president hand the keys to the White House to a low-grade reality TV star who is endorsed by David Duke and the KKK, “alt-right” crazies, and American Nazis. To the horror of many of us, our next president will be someone who explicitly rejects science, reason, and the values we all hold dear—values that are our only hope for moving this country and the world forward. (more…)
August 31: See update at the end of this post
Several readers have contacted me recently about reports that a group of international astronomers have detected a strong signal coming from a distant star that could be a sign of a high-technology civilization. Here’s my reaction: it’s interesting, but it’s definitely not the sign of an alien civilization—at least not yet.
Here’s why: (more…)
What began as a tantalizing rumor has just become an astonishing fact. Today a group of thirty-one scientists, led by Guillem Anglada-Escude at the Queen Mary University of London, UK, announced the discovery of a terrestrial exoplanet orbiting Proxima Centauri. The discovery of this planet, Proxima Centauri b, is a huge breakthrough not just for astronomers but for all of us. Here’s why.
Another attack this month, this time in Nice in the middle of the 14 July celebrations. First, the obvious: this attack, which targeted people and families watching fireworks, was despicable and inhuman. Of course, I send my thoughts to the victims and their families as well as to my colleagues and friends who live in Nice. But I am tired of being an impotent witness to this outbreak of violence everywhere in the world, and I absolutely refuse to remain silent. Like many people, I feel like I’m living a nightmare, in a polarized world in which a tiny minority of violent sociopaths want us to embrace ideas from another time whatever the cost to us, our loved ones, our values, and our dignity as human beings. I hope that this stops and that we find a solution and learn, once and forever more, to live together in peace. But we are living in a very difficult time and we must prepare for many setbacks and tragedies.
The events in Nice also make it imperative that we learn certain key lessons. We, the citizens of free nations going about our daily business, are paying a huge price for wars launched in the first decade of this century by radical and ignorant politicians who manipulated their nations into engaging in a war without end, a war that accomplishes nothing except awakening extremism and hatred in the minds of the weak, the ignorant, and the alienated. (more…)