March 31, 2009

Post-Apocalyptic New York on Earth Hour

What came out of my observations during Earth Hour was a little "dark", in all sense of the word. This is the Empire State Building with it's lights turned off during a cloudy, gloomy and star-less night. Captured on the night of Earth Hour, this image gives me an eerie feeling of an impending apocalypse as the Monolith looms over New York City "on the rocks".

An All New World Awaits for Avatar

In my quest to observe how new scientific knowledge of other planets would be assimilated into popular culture via films and other media, I have stumbled upon a movie called 'Avatar' directed by James Cameron.
Here's an overview:
In the future, Jake, a paraplegic war veteran, is brought to another planet, Pandora, which is inhabited by the Na'vi, a humanoid race with their own language and culture. Those from Earth find themselves at odds with each other and the local culture.
In a distant future, humanity discovers the planet 'Alpha Centauri B-4', and for those scientists and astronauts who've traversed the gulf between neighboring suns and arrived on its alien soil know it as 'Pandora'. A world filled with an incredible diversity of beautiful and deadly ammonia-breathing lifeforms. It's also a world that harbors treasures and resources almost beyond price.
I will stop here with my spoiler. Those who want more can click here at your own risk.
Already there's been plenty of movies that give reference to other planets but I am on the lookout as to how new movies would absorb new scientific findings about exoplanets. Will they actually have the word "exoplanet" in their script? Will they mention "Habitable Zones"? Will they consider habitable exomoons as a setting?
In this movie, 'Alpha Centauri B-4' is obviously using a different exoplanet naming system than what we currently have. From the looks of it, Pandora might be the 4th planet from one of the stars comprising Alpha Centauri. This is a great start! And what the heck? It's a movie! Must I expect much?
Although I enjoy movies for what they are, I tend to appreciate more of those movies that have accurate scientific references, more or less. For me, there's a reason why "Science" is in Sci-Fi.
Avatar will be in IMAX 3D, to be premiered on December 18, 2009. I eagerly await for this potential Exoplanetology movie of the year!

March 30, 2009

Exoplants and Habs

There might be a whimsical reason why Exoplants seem to be a typo error of Exoplanets. Extrasolar Plants, or Exoplants would be a likely constituent of habitable exoplanets or habitables (habs).
An exoplanet that happens to support life would likely host an organism that can harness the energy of it's closest star to support the processes of life.
Although not all forms of life are dependent on a star for it's energy source--as exemplified by extremophiles that thrive in the dark deep-sea trenches, it's worth investigating the possibilities of how other forms of life might utilize the light from their host star.
Our ultimate prize is the detection of bio-signatures given off via the metabolism of exoplants with their own kind of photosynthesis. That'll be the day when our interest in exoplants will bloom.

Exogazing Pollux b

After more than a week of cloudy nights, I stepped out to the hum of the stars.
And as I looked up, a smile flashed upon my face. Tonight is a great night for exogazing! I ran to grab my planisphere and saw which constellations were visible to me that night. Then I consulted the Kepler Star Wheel to find a suitable target within my backyard's field of view by scanning near the Orion constellation for an easy starting point. I saw "HD 62509 b" in tiny letters.
At that point, I did not realize yet that HD 62509 was one and the same as a prominent star. I searched wikipedia for HD 62509 b and there was no entry. Amazed, I looked again at the Kepler Star Wheel and realized that "HD 62509 b" was written underneath the big label of Pollux! Could it be that HD 62509 b is a planet orbiting Pollux? I searched wikipedia for "Pollux b" and there it was!
I was so excited to exogaze at a target that is prominent in the sky that I ran
out with my binoculars and set my gaze skyward, realizing immediately that I did not need any binoculars at all because Pollux shone so bright.
I've seen Pollux (and Castor) many times before, but tonight feels different because now I am looking at it with the knowledge that there is another world orbiting that yellow-orange giant star.

Where's Pollux?
To find Pollux, you can use the Orion constellation as a starting point for star hopping by following a extended arc running upwards from Rigel to Betelgeuse. Way past Betelgeuse you will come across two bright stars, Castor and Pollux known as the twins. The "brighter" one is Pollux which is yellowish with an orange tint.

About Pollux b
Pollux b is also catalogued as Beta Geminorum b (β Gem b / β Geminorum b) and or HD 62509 b. It is approximately 34 light-years away in the constellation of Gemini (the Twins). This exoplanet was discovered in 2006. The planet has a comparable mass to the gas giants in our solar system. It moves around Pollux in 1.61 years at a distance of 1.64 AU in a nearly circular orbit. This planet was originally suspected in 1993, and it wasn't published until June 16, 2006.

March 28, 2009

Earth Hour and Exogazing

Earth HourNot everyone believes that planet earth is in crisis. But our planet is undergoing a major shift in it's climate. In case you haven't noticed, the weather is all messed up. Some say that the earth is just fine, It's us that is screwed.
Some are cynical, some are still curious, some would shrug off their shoulders with indifference. Some would care enough to at least do something in their own small way. And some are active in making a difference with regards to the state of our home planet.
If you don't see yourself in any of these groups, you're not alone. And it's perfectly alright. What is happening to earth is probably the nature of things. Things may proceed the way they are supposed to, and there's absolutely nothing that anyone can do but observe.
Tonight is the perfect night to do exactly that. At around 8:30 pm, try looking up and observe the night sky. If you're a city dweller--as I am, you may actually notice a difference. Stars would shine more brightly than usual.
The reason is Earth Hour. People would turn off their lights for one hour. And the night sky minus the light pollution is something worth observing.
As for me, I'll head out with my family to a nice safe place by the waterfront to witness the city lights go out. Then I will look-up. I'll probably do some exogazing and drown myself in exoplanetary thinking. In a rare moment from within a city, I will have that precious 60 minutes to reflect upon our planet and observe the stars.
Whatever comes out of it, I know i'll never be the same again. Because with the changes that the earth is going through, i might never see our planet this way again.

March 27, 2009

The Green Lantern Corps

After I dropped off some overdue Exoplanet books at the NYPL, I happened to pass by Jim Hanley's Universe along 33rd St.
I put on my fabled "Citizen Journalist" hat and happened to ask a guy named Steven if they have any material that had references to exoplanets. I sure asked the right guy, because he mentioned several new installments on The Green Lantern Corps, Annihilation, and gave a very well-informed historical overview of those series and so much more. (Only now, as I was composing this blog, that I just found out that I talked to the man who was featured on Wired!)
I like more of Marvel characters than those from DC comics, and I admit that Green Lantern was not in my list of favorites, but my recent discovery about The Green Lantern Corps made it worth my renewed foray into comics, because their interplanetary setting rocks! The GLC series is written by Geoff Johns and Dave Gibbons (artist of the Watchmen) joined by Patrick Gleason as the artist.
The Green Lantern Corps is an intergalactic police force composed of a diverse species of extra-terrestrial individuals. Our very own Kyle Rayner serves as one of Earth's representative to the group.
The home planet of the Green Lantern Corps is called Oa, which is said to be at the center of the universe.
The Corps patrols the reaches of space at the command of the Guardians of the Universe, a race of immortals. The Guardians created the Green Lantern Corps some three billion years ago. Each Green Lantern is given a power ring, a weapon and artifact granting the bearer incredible power limited only by their willpower.
The Guardians divided the universe into 3600 “sectors” and choose two natives of each sector to serve as that sector's protectors.
I have yet to find out how these "sectors" adjust in proportion to the expansion of the universe.
I am still enjoying an issue of The Green Lantern Corps, at the same time observing how the new scientific knowledge about exoplanets will spill into the comic literature with an intergalactic and interplanetary setting.
There will be more to come...


March 26, 2009

Hello Worlds!

I've now been using "Hello Worlds!" in my code. I guess it's time to redefine the classic "Hello World!" in programming. I have adopted that practice to remind myself of the "Plurality of Worlds" that is upon us. In my opinion, the new generation will suddenly wake up to the continued proliferation of Worlds - in the real, virtual, imaginary and theoretical domains.
With the growing number of new exoplanet discoveries, we are uncovering new worlds that have now begun to enter the thought-sphere of humanity. Our Earth is one among billions and billions of other worlds in outer space, and that's a fact.
On another realm, we have Virtual Worlds that may yet still seem crude and "artificial" at this point in time, but nevertheless can be considered as "Worlds" in their own right. We have the Metaverse, as best represented by Second Life. And we have Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMORPG) best exemplified by World of Warcraft and Eve-Online. And there's Spore, a new genre, that is between an MMO and a single-player networked game.
We have the so-called "Parallel Worlds" in theoretical physics that seems far-fetched and inaccessible. They are a favorite in Sci-Fi, but who knows what a few decades could have in store for us? Our future progenitors may be crossing them to visit other worlds not only in space, but in time as well.
And last but not the least, I recognize the infinite worlds that are powered by the human imagination. Not to mention the wondrous Worlds that privately exist within each human mind, it is time to recognize these beautiful "Worlds" of fiction - as produced by the mind and the collective consciousness of the human race.
Truly we are in the "Era of New Worlds". And I recognize it as such to introduce "Hello Worlds!" in my programming practice (at least whimsically in my own little world of coding) as a web developer.
Today, we are not merely speculating the existence of other worlds, they are scientifically proven as a fact. The list of exoplanets is growing at an exponential rate to the point where we are on the verge of discovering earth-like worlds. Thus it will have an even greater impact on human culture and society.
I will track the exciting transition of the human psyche as it absorbs the ramifications of the plurality of worlds. I will then share the recoil it will bring in some aspects of the arts and humanities: in culture, media, religion, literature, spirituality, gaming, and other interesting fields.
It could be a lot of hard work, but the joy of discovery is what inspires me. This is a wonderful period in the history of humanity and I am grateful to live in such an era.
I will be your emissary, join me as I say "Hello Worlds"!

Note: This post is a spin-off or reblog from an earlier post in 2008 that I wrote at my other blog Archetyper. The original "Hello Worlds" can be found here:

March 24, 2009

Planetary Art Installations

Springtime is almost here, and as the weather continues to warm I will have a chance to tag along with a friend named Petty who often roams the art galleries of New York. His marathon to visit as many "gallery openings" as possible within two hours is quite fun, moreso that the primary method of hydration is free wine and beer. Sometimes I would come across some art installations that would just often trap me glassy-eyed staring at them as I hold my fifth glass of red wine.
From a cosmic perspective, there is plenty of free booze (energy) in the universe. And I assume that 'life' would arise from booze, such as "us" to consume it. Then I would like to hypothesize that there would be cosmic art installations as well from these restless beings.
For example, Advanced Technological Civilizations could "sprinkle" specific crystals to fashion artificially-created or modded rings around planets to create planetary works of art, or perhaps use nanobot dust to create animated rings.
Natural planetary rings are a true beauty, but there's no telling how the creatives would use nature's idea as an inspiration to make something new. Creativity can never be contained, thus planetary-hacking might just be a matter of time.
Aside from the aesthetics behind such a planetary exhibit, I can only deduce that it must be cleverly designed to provide an obvious mark that it was created artificially and that it was done having art or self-expression in mind. I am assuming that the sense of artistry and creativity is inherent in sentient beings, with the capacity for interstellar travel for the advanced ones.
It would be a stretch to try to imagine how beauty would be expressed by advanced civilizations, but one thing I can speculate is that their art installations probably have a mathematical aspect woven into it, perhaps some code embedded in the ring patterns.
Or perhaps it would be so striking as to be banksy.
Or perhaps it would just be so plain nonsensical that we would immediately recognize it as artificially made, in which case we might consider it as cosmic vandalism.
Exoplanets are so numerous that they lend themselves unwitting targets for planetary artistry and vandalism. Dressing up planets would almost be mundane for anyone who have mastered space travel.
In Manhattan, never have I seen so many art galleries in one area. They are packed in such a way that you may be able to graze more than 10 of them on foot in a span of one hour.
Perhaps there is a stellar "city" somewhere in the Milky Way, hustling and bustling with the myriad of "life". Our star is located in the outskirts of the galaxy and our nearest neighbor is about 4 light years away, Alpha Centauri. Maybe we are in the galactic countryside, and there are no art galleries or art installations nearby, yet.
But our neighborhood is still a galactic city in the making. Some few hundreds of years from now our own solar system will be bustling with interplanetary activity. And perhaps then we will see a glimpse of planetary art installations in our neighborhood. Jupiter? Saturn? Neptune? Perhaps Venus with artificial rings! We can only imagine.
As for those advanced beings out there that got an earlier evolutionary headstart, they have yet to exhibit their presence. And if so, Fermi asks the classic question, "Where are they? Where could they be?"
Why, they're in the "city", of course--mingling and drinking booze!

March 20, 2009

Probing the Diversity of Brown Dwarfs and Exoplanets

Care to see a solar eclipse from China while immersing yourself in cutting-edge Exoplanet research? This one's for you!

Here is an upcoming international conference that'll blow your pants off:

Probing the Diversity of Brown Dwarfs and Exoplanets
Shanghai, China
20-24 July 2009

This meeting will focus on the technological developments that are needed
to make significant progress on the observational front that will lead to
cutting edge discoveries of new types of exoplanets and brown dwarfs such
as habitable rocky planets and Y dwarfs. It will provide a venue to
encourage interactions and synergies between specialists in different

During the meeting, the participants will also have the opportunity to
witness the total solar eclipse of 22nd of July 2009, which will last over
6 minutes (the longest of this century).

The meeting will cover following topics:

High-precision Astrometry
Optical and Infrared Transits
High-precision Optical and Infrared Doppler Measurements
High-contrast Imaging
Transmission Spectroscopy
High-Sensitivity Spectroscopy
Wide-field Infrared Surveys
Millimeter and submm interferometry

You are cordially invited to attend the conference.
Comments and questions can be addressed to
The deadline for registration is June 1st for contributed talks and July 1st for
poster presentation. Please notify your colleagues who may be interested in attending this meeting.

We are looking forward to seeing many of you in Shanghai in the Astronomy Year of

March 19, 2009

Brian the Bat had Rabies

Brian the SpacebatWhen I was a kid, I was bitten by a bat. My mother can tell the whole story of how she drove away the bat from my bloody hand.
When the story about Brian the Spacebat came about, I can't help but remember that fateful day.
When you get bitten by a bat, or any animal for that matter, Rabies is of prime concern. Reflecting upon the fact that i am still alive, it meant that the bat who bit me was not rabid. Or was it?
Reflecting upon the fact that I too am drawn to outer space, I can't help but think that perhaps Brian might have had rabies of some kind.
How can you tell if a bat has rabies? Well, although CDC says that rabies can be confirmed only in a laboratory, any bat that is active by day, is found in a place where bats are not usually seen (for example, on a space shuttle), or is unable to fly (like Brian)--might be rabid.
I asked @DiscoveryBat--the ghost of Brian the Bat--to confirm whether he had rabies, but he has not answered (yet).
Hence, i took the time to write this article while I waited. But the pieces of the puzzle seemed to come together as time went by.
A wildlife expert said that Brian might have had a broken wing. That's no expert! He's a poet! "Broken wings" are the stuff of poems, songs and melodramatic overtones. How did Brian get up there in the first place?
And if Brian had some problem with his shoulders, he wouldn't be able to hang on. The vibrations would be too much. If you've seen a footage of astronauts during lift-off, you'll see that they are being shaken like crazy.
Brian did not have a broken wing. Neither did he have any problems with his shoulders. He just didn't fly off, because he was rabid.
But what kind of rabies? It's called Space Rabies - the unsatiable and maniacal desire to reach outer space.Quarantine At this point, after it has taken so long for Brian to answer, I do not expect him to think straight and even answer my question. Any rabid mammal would deny having rabies (just watch the movie 'Quarantine' and you'll know what I mean), but the tell-tale signs of space rabies is obvious (look at the hair of some astronauts in the ISS). Just like Brian and all those infected with space rabies, they have only one thing in mind: to reach Outer Space.
A twitter friend, @XiNeutrino rightfully observed a sure sign that Brian was infected with Rabies because he had fever. I couldn't agree more (Brian was hot on the infrared images). Brian surely had the symptom of Space Rabies--the fever for Space Travel, and he infected the world with it.
Brian the Bat is the first case of Space Rabies, and there will be more. So Brian Bat Foundation was set up by @astroengine (the man who named "Brian the Bat") to track the spread of this infection called Space Rabies in the animal kingdom. Only time will tell when the disease that Brian started will spread to the public. Be prepared for Space Travel. Fasten your seat belts for Outer Space!

March 14, 2009

An Amateur Astronomer and an Exoplanet Transit

Just before the end of Pi Day, I received an alert saying that an amateur astronomer has observed the exoplanet transit of XO-2b.
The thread can be found via cloudynights which starts with an enthusiastic "I think I saw an exoplanet!" and culminates with a much more proper remark "I saw an exoplanet transit!!!" along with the light curve being posted by the observer after a few rounds of data processing and calibrations.
This is great news for exoplanet enthusiasts who may someday jump into the Amateur Exoplanet Observing bandwagon.
A lot can be learned from this report and one of them is this list from TransitSearch which gives the predicted transit date and time for a large number of transiting exoplanets.
Someone has now reported this particular observation of XO-2b to the Exoplanet Transit Database (ETD) with credits to the observer named Tieman B.
Perhaps it will still be subjected to further verification, perhaps not.
Whichever is the case, I am getting more and more convinced that it is truly possible for amateur astronomers to observe exoplanet transits. And that amateurs will continue to contribute mightily to exoplanet research in the coming years.

March 10, 2009

Exo Name Drop

The "Exo" in the name of all exoplanets discovered by CoRoT will now be dropped.
The new general rule is shown below:

::: change from CoRoT-Exo-nx to CoRoT-nx
::: with x = b, c, d...

Thus, what was previously called CoRoT-Exo-1b or CoRoT-Exo-2b will now be simply called CoRoT-1b and CoRoT-2b and so on.
Of course, I like to insist that the space be present between the digit and the index letter: CoRoT-1 b, CoRoT-2 b...
It was decided from a Scientific Council held on March 10, 2009. The authoritative Exoplanet Encyclopedia has now complied, as well as NASA's Planet Quest and Exoplanetology on Freebase. The Planetary Society has yet to update their catalog.
A word of assurance to those who are worried or iauphobic: All CoRoT planets are still exoplanets despite dropping the "exo" from their names. And undoubtedly, they are STILL planets. No plutogenous issues there.
So what's next? I have a hunch that another Scientific Council will be held to change all exoplanets names that have the prefix of HD, such as HD 80606 b, into Blu-Ray, making them like so: Blu-Ray 80606 b.

Earth To Kepler: Get Off My Orbit!

March 7, 2009

A New Exocatalog for Reference and Fun

A day after the successful launch of Kepler, news came out that The Planetary Society has built a new Catalog of Exoplanets.
It is absolutely wonderful! The "online Exoplanet Trading Card" idea is great. The visualization of information on a small space was done nicely. Sure, it could use some style improvements but hey, in a glance, you can pretty much pick out relevant info quickly, and that's what matters.
I love the "Planet Mass Color Legend". For now most planets in the animations are colored red to blue (Jupiter-like & Gas Giants), but pretty soon, Kepler's discoveries will usher in the "green" Earth-sized planets!
The "Exoplanet comparison" feature is very helpful. It makes certain properties stand out when exoplanets are compared head to head.
The "Discovery Code" is new to me, but is very handy to quickly find out how an exoplanet was discovered, and when. For example, an exoplanet with a discovery code of "TR08" means that it was discovered via the Transit Method in 2008.
The animation provides an instant hint as to how eccentric the orbit is.Exoplanet
If The Planetary Society provided an API to their database, developers might be able to create some kind of game, such as an "Exoplanet Stand-Off Battle", or simple games similar to what Spore have been able to create from their creatures database.
Everything is really swell, the potential is enormous and I can see this catalog to grow in scope and size in the near future.
There is only one missing thing that I'm still looking for among all the Exoplanet Catalogs out there: The Constellation. It is a much-needed parameter for me because all these exoplanet numbers would become overwhelming to laypeople if there is no way to "connect" with it in some way.
If the Constellation parameter is present, then regular folks like me will have a practical way to make sense of it "personally"--by going out at night and looking up to which section of the sky a particular exoplanet can be "found". I have called this activity as Exogazing.
You'll have to trust me on this: There is absolutely an added bonus when you're looking up the night sky at pinpoints of light that you know holds other worlds. Being able to look in the direction of the exoplanet in the night sky makes an otherwise boring table of numbers become much more interesting for regular folks like me.
For now, I've been intermittently entering the constellation data to the Freebase catalog of Exoplanets, but only for those that I come across during my Exogazing sessions. The research to find out which constellation a particular host star belongs to is quite time-consuming. So I hope that The Planetary Society will consider this humble request in future upgrades to their Exoplanet Catalog.
Kudos to The Planetary Society for this awesome undertaking! This catalog is a very important contribution to exoplanet research. It will serve as a valuable resource to the Exoplanets Galore!

March 5, 2009

Looking Through Kepler's Eyes

Kepler's Field of ViewAll eyes are upon the Kepler Telescope on the night of March 6 as it launches into space. Kepler will serve as our eyes as we scan the heavens for other Earths. But exactly where will our "Keplerian eyes" be looking at?
Kepler will unblinkingly stare at a small patch of sky in the Cygnus constellation (The Swan), with a field of view that is roughly equivalent to two scoops of the Big Dipper.
Now one must ask, Why did the Kepler team choose the Cygnus constellation?
The Kepler team clearly outlines their reason for choosing Cygnus:

"Since transits only last a fraction of a day, all the stars must be monitored continuously, that is, their brightnesses must be measured at least once every few hours. The ability to continuously view the stars being monitored dictates that the field of view (FOV) must never be blocked at any time during the year. Therefore, to avoid the Sun the FOV must be out of the ecliptic plane. The secondary requirement is that the FOV have the largest possible number of stars. This leads to the selection of a region in the Cygnus and Lyra constellations of our Galaxy as shown."

Kepler's TargetA most excellent choice, I say!
The Cygnus constellation lies along the plane of the Milky Way, and looking in that small section of the sky from our location gives a view of a plethora of stars--greater than a hundred thousand of them! And for Kepler who will trail the earth in it's orbit around the sun--the view to this star-studded patch of sky is wide open the whole year round.
But for those earth-bound stargazers who want to look at the patch of sky where Kepler will be staring at, you'll have to wait until around June because the Cygnus constellation will only become visible in the northern skies around that time until around December.

But that makes summer's arrival even more exciting, because that patch of sky will be a welcome target for exogazers who would want to "connect" with the whole essence of Kepler's endeavor in a more personal way by looking towards Kepler's direction. To thoughtfully gaze at that same patch of sky is to capture the essence of man's ancient longing to find his place in this lonely universe.

Is Earth the only bearer of life? If we find an Earth twin, it will give an insight as to our place in the cosmos. And if we find signs of Life, it will serve as a mirror to find out a little more of ourselves. What is Life? What is Man? This ancient query is echoed by the ancient text of the Psalms.

"When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him?" - Psalms 8:3

And even in our modern day, depressing as it seems to many, we have not stopped looking to the skies to save us from our own lonesomeness.

"I'm looking to the sky to save me,
Looking for a sign of life,
Looking for something to help me burn out bright
- Foo Fighters (Learn to Fly)

AnkhBut is Kepler looking in the right direction for signs of life? The final insight I will provide might seem to be a mere coincidence, and perhaps symbolic in nature.

Cygnus, The Swan is also home to a prominent asterism called the "Northern Cross". But even more striking is that looking at the Northern Cross from an ancient Egyptian's eyes gives the Ankh symbol, a vessel of Life.

Any good part of the Milky Way may have been a good target but the symbolisms behind Cygnus makes it an even sweeter spot to search for Earth-like planets, and life.

As you can see, the view through Kepler's eyes is rich with Science, Technology, Symbolism, Faith, and Legends--all the stuff of Humanity--because in essence Kepler is actually looking inwards towards the heart and soul of Mankind !

Kepler Website: