May 31, 2008

Search for Alien Planets (Documentary)

A documentary about man's Search for Alien Planets - Extrasolar planets.

May 30, 2008


Exoplanet ForumThe Third Annual Forum on Exoplanet Science by NASA is on its closing day. (My apologies; should've posted it much earlier; will do so next time) This year it focuses on seven measurement techniques: astrometry, direct imaging - optical coronagraphy, direct imaging - mid-IR interferometry, exozodiacal disks, radial velocity, transits, and microlensing.
The results of the Forum will be published in book form, as a record of the presentations and discussion, in a format that will be accessible to a broad range of scientists and helpful to science policy makers. The publication target date is fall 2008. This event is sponsored by the NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program, with organizational and logistics support provided by the Center for Exoplanet Science at JPL.

The Universe: Alien Planets (Documentary)

The Universe: Alien Planets

May 27, 2008

Exoplanetology and Science-Fiction

ExoplanetA nice post about Exoplanets from IO9, one of my favorite sci-fi blogs. It's great to have the Sci-Fi community taking a close watch on developments in Exoplanetology - the Art and Science of Exoplanets. And why not? Man simply cannot resist the call of other Worlds. Exoplanetology is a field that beckons the imagination, and Exoplanets appeals to Sci-Fi because they're far enough to stretch the imagination, but close enough for Science. If any object at all represents a kind of missing link between Science and Fiction, then i think it's The Exoplanet.

May 26, 2008

Exoplanet Visualization Tool (exoExplorer coming soon)

exoExplorerI eagerly await this forthcoming Exoplanet Visualization Tool called 'exoExplorer' being developed by the Planetary Biology Team. The software is set to be released in June 2008.
From the looks of it, the exoExplorer visual interface will depict the exoplanet's surface features and environmental appearance based on its known characteristics as inferred from the exoplanet data.
The interface will be highly interactive - almost like a game, and as such I foresee a kind of immersive 3D experience, and your avatar will be a spaceship or a rover.
Head over to their project page to find out more. June 2008 is just around the corner for its release. I'll keep you posted.

May 25, 2008

Congratulations NASA: Phoenix Mars Lander Team

The Phoenix Mars Lander has touched down on Martian regolith after successfully carrying out the entry, descent and landing (EDL) phase of the mission.

Phoenix Mission Website
Mars Foundation

Alien Planets

A documentary about the search for exoplanets.

May 24, 2008

Extremophiles increases the Possibility of Life Elsewhere

ExtremophileFinding life on extreme conditions on our own planet might gives us a better gauge as to how life might fare on other worlds. The record-breaking discovery of microbes 1.6 kilometers beneath the ocean floor is the latest clue. The microbes are an Archaean species of the heat-loving Pyrococcus which can thrive at temperatures of 100°C, a temperature which would destroy most living organisms.
If the whole universe were a laboratory for testing the resiliency of life, then the sheer number of exoplanets and their moons, which are far greater than the number of stars, would have provided a diverse landscape for life to flourish, thereby increasing the possibility of extrasolar life even more.

Link: Nature News

Exoplanet Update for May 2008

And I thought May 2008 was going to end without any exoplanet discovery.

Here's the latest stats and info on exoplanet discoveries for May 2008:
Three new exoplanets come from the COROT mission, and one from a team of independent planet-hunters.

The 4 new exoplanets are:
1) CoRoT-Exo-3 b
2) CoRoT-Exo-4 b
3) CoRoT-Exo-5 b
4) XO-5 b

They have now all been added into the Freebase Exoplanet Database

The team that discovered XO-5 b includes Bruce L. Gary. If you remember, he wrote the free eBook for Amateur Exoplanetologists. The team used photometric and spectroscopic Methods to detect XO-5 b. For more details, here is the paper they submitted to the
Astrophysical Journal, as viewed in PDF from Arxiv:

The COROT series of exoplanets was discovered by the french-led COROT mission.
COROT was launched atop the Soyuz from the Baikonour cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on December 2006. If you've watched Borat, you'll know where Kazakhstan is.
COROT is a CNES project with ESA participation. The other major partners in this mission are Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Germany and Spain.-

May 21, 2008


Gliese 876dAwesome rendition of a 'sunrise' on Gliese 876d. And because it's a sunrise on an exoplanet, I will coin a new word for it - Extrasolarise.
Many thanks to APOD for featuring this photo. And kudos to Inga Nielsen for a fantastic artwork.
I am enthralled by looking at pictures of these far-flung worlds. Is it because they cause my imagination to run wild between Science and Fiction? Exoplanets are real, yet they are far enough to stretch the imagination. The limit of the speed of light is what makes the mind's eye to be boundless.
The Art and Science that goes into creating stunning artworks like this is what prompted me to define Exoplanetology as The Art and Science of Exoplanets...

Photo Credit: Inga Nielsen

May 17, 2008

Not OK to Believe in Aliens...

Giordano BrunoI just came across this funny news headline: The Vatican says it's OK to believe in Aliens.
Of course its not OK to believe in aliens. Are you kidding?
'OK' is an understatement.
Think of what would have happened to someone who believed in the existence of other beings in another planet just like the earth, during Giordano Bruno's time.
The Roman Catholic Church has matured much since those kind of days. Let's hope the growth of reason continues to flourish.

The Vatican says it's OK to believe in Aliens
IO9: It's OK...

May 13, 2008

Planet Hunters (Documentary)

A documentary about the search for extrasolar planets and about the people who dedicated their lives to hunt for exoplanets.

May 11, 2008

Flood of Marvelous new Exoplanets to begin this Fall 2008

MARVELSWhat a nice acronym for a project that will bring us marvelous new worlds to thinker with. This coming fall, astronomers will start a massive search for new planets by observing about 11,000 nearby stars over 6 years. This number dwarfs the roughly 3,000 stars that astronomers have searched to date for the presence of planets. Scientists estimate that the NASA-funded project, called MARVELS (Multi-object Apache Point Observatory Radial Velocity Exoplanet Large-area Survey), will find at least 150 new planets—perhaps many more.
MARVELS will do much more than just catalogue a few hundred more planets. By surveying the Jupiter-like planets around such a large number of stars, MARVELS aims to give astronomers the data they need to test competing theories for how planetary systems form and evolve.
To look at so many stars, MARVELS will use a telescope that can separately image 60 stars at a time, and this number will eventually be increased to 120 stars. The telescope, which will be housed at the Apache Point Observatory in the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico, has a 2.5 meter primary mirror and a wide field of view that covers 7 square degrees of the sky—an area that would appear 35 times larger than the Moon.
The MARVELS approach hinges upon the pattern that whenever a large jupiter-like planet is present, smaller terrestrial planets may also be there. The set of data that MARVELS will discover will definitely help in sorting out which stars are potential targets for further research. Plus, it will be a big boon to verify theories of planetary formation.
And if everything proceeds as planned, it will verify the forecast made on this blog last February that a deluge of exoplanets will be discovered in 2008.

Sloan Digital Sky Survey III
Mission Hopes to Find New Planets by the Dozen

May 6, 2008

ExoGaia Hypothesis

By now you must be wondering why I have added a very curious parameter to the definition of Exoplanetology, which is "the search for life on other worlds". What does "Life" have to do with Exoplanets? Should we just let Exoplanetology simply be the study of Exoplanets?
My short answer is simply because Life is fun! But we may in fact leave it plain and simple as the pure science of exoplanets. But I'm afraid that definition will be temporary. In due time, life will ultimately be detected on other worlds. And those who are familiar with James Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis knows that a planet is never the same once Life takes hold of it. It becomes a planet-life symbiosis. The planet becomes a living organism.
Life ultimately alters the make-up of planets, while on the other hand the undulations of the surface of the planet (earthquakes, volcanic activities, tectonics, etc) affects the course of life's evolution. The metabolisms of life changes the "atmosphere" of planets, vise-versa and so on. For example, the planktons, green algae or microscopic plants have been responsible for the copious amounts of Oxygen on Earth's atmosphere, where previously - some few millions of years ago, there was Methane and other gases instead. Now humans are about to replace it with CO2!
So, in the study of exoplanets, the parameter of life is inherently entwined. As a matter of fact, in trying to understand the gases in an exoplanet's atmosphere, an inference to the presence of life is almost always taken into account as a possible catalyst.
Hence, there is no other way but to add "the search for Life" to Exoplanetology at this point. And this is also to inspire all the those who undertake the task of answering one of man's deepest questions, "Are We Alone?". So for now, while we're still searching, we can leave it at that. (Besides, I think its time for interdisciplinary collaborations between related sciences: Isnt it fun to bring aspects of Astrobiology, Astronomy, Cosmology and even Climatology together into Exoplanetology?)
But once we finally discover exoplanetary life, I will immediately change the definition of Exoplanetology to "The Art and Science of Exoplanets and Life on Other Worlds."
And by the way, if Gaia is to Earth, then could ExoGaia be for Exoplanets?

May 5, 2008

Look Ma, No Lens! Just a Sheet of Metal for Planet-hunting!

Fresnel ImagerA proposed telescope would focus light primarily with a patterned sheet of metal rather than a large mirror or lens. The telescope would have amazingly sharp vision and could spot Earth-size planets around other stars.
The technique takes advantage of light's diffraction, which enables light to be focused into an image simply by passing it through a certain pattern of holes carved in an opaque sheet. Such patterned sheets have long been used for focusing laser beams, but have so far not been used for astronomy, much more for Exoplanetology. These patterned metal plates are called Fresnel zone plates, after the French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel, who studied diffraction in the 1800s.
Because it relies on a foil sheet rather than a massive mirror, it could be much more lightweight, and therefore less expensive to launch, than a traditional telescope.
A Fresnel imager with a sheet of a given size has vision just as sharp as a traditional telescope with a mirror of the same size, though it collects just 10% or so of the light. It can also observe in the ultraviolet and infrared, in addition to visible light.
The imager can take very detailed images with high contrast, which is great for being able to see a very faint object in the close vicinity of a bright one, making it perfect for obtaining images of exoplanetary systems. Such images have so far been very difficult to make because exoplanets are so faint they get lost in their host stars' glare.
A 30-metre Fresnel imager would be powerful enough to see Earth-sized planets within 30 light years of Earth, and measure the planets' light spectrum to look for signs of life, such as atmospheric oxygen.
Now don't get excited yet because there still a lot of challenges for this approach, such as how to unfurl the plate during deployment in space. Oh and by the way, the fresnel plate may still require a secondary mirror called a fresnel lens to correct some errors, har har. The blog title was just a trick!


May 2, 2008

Dust Bunnies and Planets

Dust bunnies are probably the best metaphor when trying to understand how planets form. (Although stars form much in the same way, its rare and difficult to see.)
It's simply a property of matter to coalesce or aggregate, specially when in a vortex with a proper mix of chaos. Astrophysicists have recently captured images of a "dust bunny" in the process of becoming a planet. The star is AB Aurigae, and here is the link for more details about the evidence. The team who captured this image used the technique caled coronagraphy, which blocks out the brightest light emitted by the star to permit dimmer objects nearby to be seen. Another technique is polarimetry, which filters out the starlight with incredible precision.