March 26, 2008

What's in an exoplanet's name?

As I imported the names of all the known exoplanets into freebase, the pattern was very apparent. In most cases, Exoplanets are named after their parent star, such as 51 Pegasi b (51 Peg b for short), where the parent star is 51 Pegasi, and the last letter "denotes" the planet in chronological order of discovery. You would never find a capital "A" planet because it denotes the parent star itself. Thus, the first planet that is detected upon a star is named as "[star_name] b". The succeeding exoplanets to be discovered in that solar system will then follow the alphabetical sequence for it's designated letter. Example: Gliese 876 b and Gliese 876 c was discovered in 2000, Gliese 876 d in 2005.
Some exoplanets were named after the telescope used in detecting them, such as TrES-1 (detected by via microlensing), or SWEEPS-11 and WASP-3 b (using the Transit Method).
To poetically end this post, An exoplanet by any other name would smell as extra-sweet!

List of Exoplanet Catalogues

Below is a list of Exoplanet Catalogues. A list of lists, a Meta-Catalogue of Exoplanets. Very handy for cross-referencing exoplanet data. I will continually update this particular post as I come across new ones. You may come back to this post by clicking on the keyword "catalogue" from the tag-cloud on the lower right column.


Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia
Description: The most updated one, and has the most options for interactive filtering and sorting. And its the oldest one too, i think.

New Worlds Atlas
Description: This one has a nice visual interface and a cool website. It has some nice filters for you to extract the relevant data that you need from the dataset.

California and Carnegie Planet Search
Description: This one has features a Sortable Table by clicking on the table headers.

Planetary Biology
Description: This is the most interesting catalogue since it ranks planets according to the likelihood of life. Though it also uses data from the Exoplanet Encyclopedia.

Geneva Observatory
Description: I dont know what to say yet.

Working Group on Extrasolar Planets
Description: A simple list of exoplanets. No interface.

Transiting Planets
Description: List of transiting planets

List of Stars with Confirmed Exoplanets
Description: A good reference list.

Paris Observatory Catalog of Exoplanets
Description: A catalogue maintained by the French-led Paris Observatory group. A good up-to-date list.

Description: A good source of data about Stars and Exoplanets. Combo is good!

Exoplanetology on Freebase
Description: A new entry on freebase that opens up an open collaborative effort for maintaining the list. Data that would not have been included in the dataset are taken into account and organized. Another advantage is that freebase has an API which opens up the data set for more robust interactive applications. Anyone with a serious interest in exoplanets may contribute to this list, but you need to sign up for a freebase account.

March 21, 2008

Google Enters the Field of Exoplanetology

Google joins the the hunt for exoplanets by funding the development of the wide-field digital cameras needed for the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). TESS, a satellite-based observatory for hunting Earth-like planets is currently being designed by MIT scientists. TESS would perform its transit method of exoplanet-detection high above the clouds - a big advantage over its ground-based counterparts who use the same technique. Ground-based telescopes are obscured by the earth's atmosphere, hence their resolution is limited in detecting much smaller terrestrial planets like the earth. But a space-based telescope like TESS, being free of interference from atmospheric clouds and dust, will be able to resolve light coming from distant stars in much greater detail, allowing it to detect Earth-like planets, as well as those with larger orbits. Now, more resolution means more data - and this is where Google has shown interest as well - processing huge amounts of data to find useful information. But hold on to your horses though, TESS won't be launched until 2012. So the concept logo for Google Exoplanetology (designed by yours truly) might not be used...yet?

March 19, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke Leaves Us His Wishes

Arthur ClarkeA sad day today. Arthur C. Clarke dies at age 90. One of his wishes was to see the day of the discovery of extra-terrestrial life. This wish will be passed on to our generation. Clarke, who is best known for his Sci-Fi 2001: A Space Odyssey, lived in an "electronic cottage" in Sri Lanka - totally wired to the rest of the world, but at the same time totally immersed with Nature. His other wish was to see cleaner fuel and energy sources. Though he never witnessed that day when his wishes comes true, he continues to inspire millions as he leaves us with his odyssey.

March 17, 2008

Song for Exoplanetologists

Planet-HunterPlanet-hunting can be boring at times, so I thought i'd dedicate a song for lonely exoplanetologists out there. Here's Rocky Took A Lover by Bell X1 for those who take on the hard research, the difficult task of looking at numbers, and the mind-numbing experience of analyzing data, and for those who often experience the lonely feeling of gazing at the stars alone in the night. The song has honest lyrics, totally human, and I think the video fits well for Astronomers who need a little romance. The song is just plain perfect for Exoplanetologists, too. Viktor Frankl said that "What is to give light must endure burning", so for those who endure the burning hardship to enlighten us with knowledge of the stars and planets, here's a song for you:

Rocky Took A Lover
Bell X1

He said 'I wanna shine in the eye of Orion
But I drove my soul through the Black Hole!'
She said 'What a wonderful way to wake me
You weren't so nice last night
You're such an asshole when you're drunk'
He said 'At least I'm OK in the mornings'

He said 'The three wise men came a long way
Following that pin hole in the sky
Yeah that one right there'
She said 'I don't believe in any old Jesus
If there was a God, then why is my arse
The perfect height of kicking?'

He said 'I'll shine for you, I'll burn for you
Yea I'll shine for you, that's what I'll do'

He said 'They're like headlights
In the rear view mirror
They're closer that they seem
And from this gutter we're still staring at the stars'
She said 'Would ya go away and shite
Last night all you did was curse those stars
You said they sang to you of hope'

He said 'The sun gives life, and it takes it away
But like all the greats, it'll burn out someday'
She said 'I don't mind, I don't want to get bored
I don't want to end up beached on this shore
I want to be that star'

And then I'll shine for you. Then I'll burn for you.
Then I can shine for you. That's what I'll do

And for those who Rock, below is a 'Rocky' version of the song.

Water and Organic Molecules on AA Tauri

Water Signature
Great news today. Water and some organic molecules has been detected on AA Tauri's protoplanetary disk.
AA Tauri is a star 450 lightyears from earth. Protoplanetary disks are dust, rocks and clouds around a star that are raw materials for planet-formation. The particular disk where the organic molecules were detected are within 3 Astronomical Units (AU) from AA Tauri. Spitzer Space Telescope’s spectrograph captured data from the disk which very much resembles the signature of organic molecules and water on Earth.
What does this mean? There's a big chance that the planet that will form from such water-abundant and organic-rich materials will be conducive to life.

Science Mag Abstract
Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Naval Research Laboratory

March 15, 2008

Use of Computer Simulations for Exoplanetology

Alpha Centauri BRecent advances in computing power has provided us an even greater tool for study. Half of a mouse's brain has been simulated on neuronal details. In another development, part of a human brain has also been modelled, making me want to get tons of computers to simulate my brain, too. But now, hearing about the star-formation simulations made on Alpha Centauri B is wonderful news for exoplanetology. The findings of the simulation is that terrestrial planets are likely to have formed around the star Alpha Centauri B and to be orbiting in the Habitable Zone (HZ) where liquid water can exist on the planet's surface. The icing on the lake ('pun' intended) is that such planets could be observed using a dedicated telescope.
To study planet formation around Alpha Centauri B, the team ran repeated computer simulations, evolving the system for the equivalent of 200 million years each time. Because of variations in the initial conditions, each simulation led to the formation of a different planetary system. In every case, however, a system of multiple planets evolved with at least one planet about the size of Earth. In many cases, the simulated planets had orbits lying within the habitable zone of the star. This makes Alpha Centauri B an excellent candidate for finding terrestrial planets.

March 14, 2008

Web-Based Google Sky: A Great Tool !

Google's Browser-based Sky launched. Now you don't need to install any software for a quick marvel at the heavens! Google Sky comes default with some known objects, such as M1 and Andromeda, and see them in x-ray, infrared, microwave and ultraviolet modes. Perfect for amateur astronomy. You can also see some showcases of Hubble, Spitzer and other telescopes images and overlay your own information with KML content like in Google Earth. At the top left, there's a link to Google Moon and Google Mars.
This is a wonderful start! I can foresee the day when exoplanets are marked out in sky just like the currently known objects catalogued in there. It'll give us a sense of where they are in the sky. With the launch of new telescopes, we will see an explosion of hi-res images in the next few years. And we'll definitely see them in Google Sky. Gee, thanks Google! Thanks NASA!

March 6, 2008

Habitable Zone: Starting from Home

We had to start somewhere. In trying to determine where life might likely arise in other parts of the universe, a guide and yardstick had to be set. Where else should we begin with but home? Such is what i think is behind the concept of the Habitable Zone (HZ), a region of space where conditions are favorable for life as it may be found on Earth. More specifically, HZ is a region around a star in which water can exist in liquid form.
Its very anthropomorphic, I know, and is constrained for water-based and carbon-based lifeforms, but it's a very good start in the search for exoplanets and life in deep space.
Probabilities and the likelihood of finding life in other places begins with Earth as the model and guide, hinging on Water. Planetary missions, such as the Mars Exploration are on the lookout for signs of water. Because water means life, er to begin with.
Slowly but surely, we are now expanding our sphere of thought from the basic Habitable Zone concept to other worlds. From Mars, Jupiter and its moon Europa, all the way to an exoplanet called Gliese 581c. Soon there will be more worlds to think about. And more platforms of life to speculate on, not just carbon, but perhaps methane.
And the day will come when a variety of Habitable Zones will be identified, not just the traditional Earth-like or water-based kind that we know of.
When we finally find signs of life or life itself on a distant exoplanet, we will remember the day when the concept of the most basic Habitable Zone was formulated...hey, we had to start somewhere.

March 1, 2008

Do not be afraid of Math

I love this interview of a planet-hunter named Rachel Akeson, who uses the Keck Telescopes in Mauna Kea to hunt for exoplanets. Her advise to enthusiasts on planet-hunting resonates with me. When asked about her advise to people who are interested in the field, she said:

"There are all kinds of people working in this area, so you shouldn't get scared off if math isn't your thing. There are lots of different careers, from science journalism to public outreach, that people can be a part of."

I'm no good in math, but i really am interested in the heavens, the stars and planets therein. Times come when i get uninspired, and hearing something like that from a real planet-hunter makes me continue onwards with this blog and website on exoplanetology.

Link: The Planet Hunters