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Wonderful Potentially Habitable Worlds Around TRAPPIST-1

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Abstract Concept of TRAPPIST-1 System credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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.

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Mid-infrared light reveals a contaminated crust around Ceres

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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.

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An AGU 2016 Session on Solar System Small Bodies

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.

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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…)

Fall AGU meeting: Detection and Direct Imaging of Habitable Exoplanets

screen-shot-2016-12-11-at-10-51-19-pmAGU 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.

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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.

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Let’s end this political hangover. It is time to fight

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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…)

Let’s be careful about this “SETI” signal

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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.

Jodie Foster in the movie "Contact"

Jodie Foster in the movie “Contact”

Here’s why: (more…)

Proxima Centauri b: Have we just found Earth’s cousin right on our doorstep?

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.

This artist’s impression shows a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System. The double star Alpha Centauri AB also appears in the image to the upper-right of Proxima itself. Proxima b is a little more massive than the Earth and orbits in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri, where the temperature is suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

This artist’s impression shows a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System. The double star Alpha Centauri AB also appears in the image to the upper-right of Proxima itself. Proxima b is a little more massive than the Earth and orbits in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri, where the temperature is suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface.
Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

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Calling for a Better World – Remember to Vote

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In English

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…)

The Triple Asteroid (87) Sylvia

Another beautiful simulation of the triple asteroid system (87) Sylvia and its two moons Romulus and Remus made in collaboration with the California Academy of Sciences.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 11.48.50 PM(87) Sylvia was discovered in 1866 by N.R. Pogson, a British astronomer located in Madras, India. This main-belt asteroid is large with a diameter of ~150 km. That’s all we knew until recently.

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Flying through the binary trojan asteroid system (617) Patroclus

Another day, another video!

This time I am posting a video of the binary L5 Trojan Asteroid (617) Patroclus-Menoetius. In collaboration, with the team at the California Academy of Sciences, we have created a model of this interesting binary asteroid system which shares its orbit with Jupiter.

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