SETI INSTITUTE

The Next Step in Exoplanetary Science: Imaging New Worlds
Published 12/27/2013 in Franck Marchis Blog Author Franck Marchis
In 2003, I was lucky enough to be part of a small group of astronomers that met at the University of California at Berkeley to brainstorm on an innovative idea: the design of an instrument to image and characterize planets around other stars, called exoplanets, using a telescope in the 8 – 10 meter class. A decade later, such an instrument became reality with the arrival of the Gemini Planet Imager (called also GPI, or “Gee-pie”) instrument at the Gemini South telescope in Chile. Five known planetary systems imaged with current adaptive optics systems. Fomalhaut shown on... read more ❯

Fate of Planetary Habitability highlighted at the AGU Fall Meeting
Published 12/11/2013 in Franck Marchis Blog Author Franck Marchis
Together with Cynthia Phillips, one of my SETI Institute colleagues, I will convene a session at the AGU Fall meeting tomorrow afternoon (oral) and Friday December 13 (poster) entitled "Rapid Environmental Change and the Fate of Planetary Habitability". This session will be an opportunity to see recent works on the adaptability of life in abrupt climate crises. Recent discoveries inspire us to re-examine our understanding of how rapidly planetary habitats can be redistributed. Past habitable environments on Mars from the Curiosity rover, possible subsurface lakes on Europa, and potentially habitable exoplanets from the Kepler spacecraft continue to expand our definition of the... read more ❯

GPI is ready for its new location in Chile
Published 8/2/2013 in Gemini Planet Imager Author Franck Marchis
It is now official, The Gemini Planet Imager ("Gee-pi") is ready for shipping to Chile. This decision was taken on July 19 after the positive pre-delivery acceptance review. From its current home at the University of California Santa Cruz, the instrument’s Integral Field Spectrograph (IFS) began its warm-up a week later (July 25th), and the computers were shut-down two days ago (July 31st). GPI is going to be carefully packed for a long trip to Chile. The instrument will be shipped... read more ❯

SETI Institute Waved at Saturn
Published 7/19/2013 in Franck Marchis Blog Author Franck Marchis
Like several thousand people, the SETI Institute waved at Saturn on Friday July 19 at 2:27pm for ~15 min. In full day light, it was impossible to see Saturn on the east close to the horizon but we trusted our local astronomers (and several App on iPhone) to wave and smile in the right direction toward the gaseous planet. It is likely that the Cassini spacecraft had recorded  80 min later a glimpse of photons coming from us. It was fun to participate to this "global moment of cosmic... read more ❯

Featuring the Women Of Science #WomenOfScience
Published 3/5/2013 in Franck Marchis Blog Author Franck Marchis
Today I would like to share with you an idea for the International Women's day on March 8 2013.  If you work in an institution, university, or non-profit related to science, have you taken note of the number of women around you? In astronomy and planetary science, it is not too bad even if it is not perfect, but some "hard" science groups, like physics or computer science, clearly have a low proportion of women in their ranks. I will not elaborate on the reasons for such lack of representation; instead, I propose to focus on the bright side. Yes, there... read more ❯

Kepler is Sick and Resting: "Mountain View, we have a problem"
Published 1/17/2013 in Franck Marchis Blog Author Franck Marchis
"Mountain View, we have a problem..." NASA Kepler Manager at NASA Ames, Mountain View announced today that they interrupted the science operation of the spacecraft, due an issue with one of the reaction wheels.  Kepler is equipped with four reaction wheels which are used to accurately point the telescope. One failed in July 2012 and today the team announced that they detected issues with a second one. Kepler needs three reaction wheels to be used properly, if this one fails the mission is most likely over. That's not good news. The team detected an increase of friction on reaction wheel #4 on January... read more ❯

AGU Fall Meeting 2012 - Planetary Evolution and the Fate of Planetary Habitability
Published 12/2/2012 in Franck Marchis Blog Author Franck Marchis
Tomorrow is the first day of the AGU Fall Meeting, in San Francisco, CA. I love this conference, not only because it is 30 min door-to-door from my house, but also because it is BIG... Last year there were ~27,000 registered geoscientists, and there is no reason there should be less of them this year. With more than 29 parallel sessions in diverse  topics such as Atmospheric Sciences, Hydrology, Natural Hazards, Biosphere, Volcanology, Cryosphere, Education and of course Planetary Sciences, plus several social events, and press conferences, it will be a feast for scientists, science reporters and the public. Several press conferences and... read more ❯

Gemini Planet Image joined the Cosmic Diary Network
Published 6/12/2012 in Gemini Planet Imager Author Franck Marchis
The Gemini Planet Imager team is joining the Cosmic Diary Network. GPI is the next generation adaptive optics instrument being built for the Gemini South Telescope. The goal is to image extrasolar planets orbiting nearby stars. The GPI team will use this blog to show the progress on the development of this instrument and discuss the science results which will be obtained in 2013. WHO: GPI is being built by a consortium of U.S. and Canadian institutions, funded by the Gemini Observatory, which is an international partnership comprising the U.S.A., U.K., Canada, Australia, Argentina, Brazil & Chile. WHEN: After more than 5 years of development (preliminary design review... read more ❯

Thoughts about a beautiful NASA video - Save Our Science
Published 5/8/2012 in Franck Marchis Blog Author Franck Marchis
Today I am feeling inspired and motivated. It could easily have not been the case since the day started with a massive crash of my email inbox, a difficult review of a recently submitted paper, and some issues with my simulation that I am planning to present at the ACM conference next week – not to mention a lack of sleep. Still, all of this became irrelevant when I watched NASA’s new promotional video attached below. Sometimes it is good to be reminded how lucky we are to be part of this adventure. Never in the history of mankind have we had access to... read more ❯

Searching for Fragments of the Sutter's Mill Meteorite
Published 4/26/2012 in Franck Marchis Blog Author Franck Marchis
An update about the Sutter's Mill Meteorite that I mentioned yesterday. A few hours ago, I saw the pieces that Peter Jenniskens brought at the SETI Institute. I am not a meteorite expert but they indeed look like a carbonaceous chondrite meteorite. The fragments are black, with tiny white flecks scattered through the interior. On the surface, one can see black coating due to the heating during the passage through the Earth atmosphere. While watching them, I had this unreal... read more ❯

Next-gen Suborbital Missions: a talk and a Conference
Published 2/25/2012 in Franck Marchis Blog Author Franck Marchis
Join us on Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 7:00pm at the Colloquium room of the SETI Institute to hear a talk by Andrew Nelson, Chief Operating Officer of XCOR. Title: The Trillion Dollar Space Enterprise --> Or How The Lynx Suborbital Vehicle Will Change The World by Andrew Nelson, Chief Operating Officer of XCOR Abstract: Fully resuable spacecraft are the critical enabler for regular, low cost and safe access to space, and such access will enable space utilization in ways we've only dreamed about in the past. Much as the early ARPANET laid the foundation... read more ❯

Kepler-16: Exoplanets around binary star systems DO exist
Published 9/15/2011 in Franck Marchis Blog Author Franck Marchis
Kepler-16 is another great discovery coming from the Kepler telescope, the 10th NASA Discovery mission which is devoted to finding Earth-size exoplanets by monitoring variations of brightness due to transit. Today the Kepler team found a circumbinary exoplanet, an exoplanet orbiting a binary star system. Did they find Tatooine? In the large 105 deg2 field of view of the Kepler spacecraft, ~156,000 stars are being almost continuously observed by the 0.95m telescope. In 2010, the star number KIC... read more ❯

An Occultation by the double asteroid (90) Antiope seen in California
Published 7/21/2011 in Franck Marchis Blog Author Franck Marchis
Last Tuesday July 19 at 3:25am PDT, several SETI REU students and colleagues from SETI institute and Observatoire de Paris were on the road. They were looking at the sky with  tiny telescopes and surrounding by complex instruments somewhere in the middle the Californian countryside to witness and record a rare event: the occultation of a bright 7-mag star by the double asteroid (90) Antiope. (90) Antiope is clearly a remarkable and unique binary asteroid. It is made of 2 large (~86 km) ellipsoidal components orbiting around their center of mass in 16.5 hours, describing a circular orbit with a... read more ❯

Allen Array Telescope and the SETI Institute
Published 4/29/2011 in Franck Marchis Blog Author Franck Marchis
My previous post on the hibernation of the Allen Array Telescope got a lot of attention and I have been contacted by various people to discuss its impact on the institute and on my research. First of all, I should remind my readers that the SETI Institute is a research institution composed of three departments: - The Center for education and public outreach which manages the E/PO of various NASA projects such as Kepler and SOFIA and also our Research Experience for Undergraduates program. - The Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe composed of ~60 scientists who... read more ❯

Today the Allen Array Telescope is hibernating
Published 4/22/2011 in Franck Marchis Blog Author Franck Marchis
First of all, a disclaimer: I am not NOT involved in the Allen Array Telescope, neither I conduct astronomical programs using radio telescopes. I am writing this post about the Allen Array Telescope (ATA) since it is a joint project  effort by the SETI Institute and the Radio Astronomy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley and I am working for these institutions. This post describes the current situation for the ATA based on information collected after discussions with my colleagues at both institutions. The Allen Array Telescope (ATA) is a radio interferometer located at Hat Creek Observatory, 300 miles north of San Francisco,... read more ❯