October 31, 2009

EVE goes Exoplanetary

EVE Online, one of my favorite Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) has just made an important update. They added more details to the exoplanets in their universe.

The last time I've played EVE was almost 4 years ago during the months when I was unemployed. It was one of the virtual worlds I explored, attempting to earn income and hoping it would support my expenses in the real world. Of course, you can't make real money with EVE but it was an awesome experience just simply playing the coolest game ever. I miss my garage setup which I considered as my cockpit. I explored interstellar space through several monitors which I imagined as windows to another universe, a metaverse so to speak.

In EVE there are jump-gates that your ship needs to go through in order to reach a target destination via a series of warp jumps. These gates are somewhat bigger than those in Stargate Universe. Often, these jump-gates are near Extrasolar Systems, and the view is splendid. But then, I was virtually confined to my cockpit. The best I could do was to admire the view of planets and suns from afar because I cannot land on any planet and walk on it's surface. To that effect, I was simultaneously running several instances of Second Life and Entropia Universe on several other CPU/monitors--to give me the feel of being on the surface of another planet.

Today, Eve players still cannot land on any extrasolar planet "in-world". And with the recent upgrade concerning the details of the planets, I can only wonder how much Science they put into the Dominion update. Did they incorporate parameters for gas giants, super-earths, waterworlds or earth-like planets? Did they include exomoons? How did they incorporate the planetary details in the gameplay? Can the players mine the planets? How do the planets fit in the new storyline? These questions only draws me closer to sign up and set up my rig once again to find out.

As I reflect on my virtual-immersion days I realize that my past experience with virtual worlds was a valuable part of my journey to fully appreciate our natural world--our real universe. And though in the back of my mind the Ontological question remains whether any universe--virtual or otherwise--is real or not, the adventure to learn more about the wonders of our Cosmos remains steadfast.

Because exoplanets remain unseen, they provide ample ground for the mind to play between the real and the imaginary, or the wonderful and the mysterious. Exoplanets are a natural bridge between Science and the Arts.

Eve online's potential as a great teaching tool for Science is enormous. It's also a good source of inspiration for space travel, specially for this generation trapped in an age where human space exploration is not yet a reality.

But in my mind's eye, I can see that day when the first Exoplaneteer will brave the Cosmos, the first Exonaut who will visit Worlds I've never seen or imagined.

EVE's planetary graphics kicked up yet another notch for Dominion expansion
Eve's New Look at it's Planets
More Clips

October 23, 2009

An Exoplanet By Any Other Name

I came across an ArXiv post today calling for the noble attempt to name all exoplanets using the traditional Greek/Roman system. I commend the effort but unfortunately it would fail for some reasons.
One flaw lies with the system itself. Even all characters in the Greek/Roman mythology will not suffice. There's not enough of them to match all the exoplanets--which will probably number up to thousands in the next few decades.
Another thing is that the state of affairs in human politics involved in naming things is out of whack. We can't even agree what a planet is. So i understand why IAU does not want to jump in on it.
So if you'll allow me, I'd like to suggest a fun way to name exoplanets.
Let me start by saying that I have trouble remembering names, and that I love mnemonics. Thus it only leads me to one simple idea and one simple system to go about naming exoplanets.
I think that the host stars should be given more memorable nicknames. Then the names of the exoplanets they hold will follow from that.
For example, instead of HD80606, lets call it "Bogog". Then we'll have "Bogogbee" for its exoplanet.
HD156411 b will then be called "Isgaiibee", HD16141 b will be "Igiaibee". HD190360 b will be "Ipoegobee". And it's sibling will be "Ipoegocee".
If you look closely, you'll notice a very complex multi-dimensional pattern in how I name it. I'll let you figure that out, all you geniuses!
I know that using my system makes the exoplanets sound all weird but hey, it's fun! It makes me laugh just reading those numbers.

List of Proposed Exoplanet Names

October 20, 2009

The Holy Grail in Exoplanet Science

A couple of weeks ago, I enjoyed a great evening of exoplanets, music, cocktail and science at the SciCafe Event which launched with a topic about Exoplanets and the Search for Life in the Universe.

Ben Oppenheimer's lecture and presentation was stylish and unique. A 3D map of the known exoplanets around our stellar neighborhood was shown in multiple widescreens scattered across the museum space. He gave some background on adaptive optics, coronal shields (coronagraphy) and spectography. He showed animation clips across the different wavelengths of light seen from a star: the resulting animation is a function not of time but of color. He also gave a hint that soon he will release some new findings they gained using their technique.

The whole aura during the event was simply hip and cool. Just imagine sipping red wine inside the American Museum of Natural History (Rose Center) with some ambient music while being immersed in planetary stuff. Of course, seeing some twitter friends, @leebillings and @bnroberts at the event was nice. And did I mention that I wore my nerdy Kepler shirt and a beautiful woman commented on it? "Nice shirt!" she said, nodding in approval.

After the lecture, during the Q & A portion I kept raising my hand for the last question but I wasn't picked. But I was glad that Ben picked someone else who asked an excellent question, "What is the Holy Grail in Exoplanet Science?"

And I appreciated the answer I heard: For Ben Oppenheimer, the Holy Grail in Exoplanet Science is simply being part of it. He says that the Holy Grail is not making the best exoplanet discovery and being in the news and in the papers. The Holy Grail is simply being part of the collective efforts of a myriad of people that revolves around the Science of Exoplanets. Ultimately, he says, Exoplanet Science will be done by society as a whole. Now that's the Holy Grail of Exoplanet Science. Amen!

October 19, 2009

The 400 Mark

Something remarkable happened today.

We have just reached the 400th mark of total known exoplanets on the same year that we are celebrating the 400th Anniversary of Astronomy. It was only 400 years ago when Galileo started to point the telescope at the heavens. And look how far we have gone since then! It's a welcome note that the biggest catch of new extrasolar planets occurs on the International Year of Astronomy 2009.
More so that hidden beneath the numbers is something even more remarkable--the exponential rate of acceleration of new exoplanet discoveries. You see, it's not that a new exoplanet is being discovered for every year since 400 years ago. It's that there has been an upward trend in exoplanet count within the 15 years since the announcement of the first exoplanet in 1995.

As every futurist knows, it's the exponential rate that must noted. Exponential thinking is something that must be understood by the populace to get a better grip of what is to come. The power and capabilites of telescopes also follows an upward curve comparable to Moore's Law. In this same year a few months ago, the Kepler Mission was launched, ensuring another surge of exoplanet discoveries within 2 to 3 years from now and beyond. And shortly after then, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will be launched to bring us even more exoplanets.

So what lies beyond the 400 mark?

We will find earth-like planets soon, habitable in many regards. Perhaps we may even find habitable exomoons as well. I have a gut feeling that all these will culminate on the discovery of exolife on a planet a few light years away. Then we would have answered one of man's greatest questions.

To live in such an era of profound discoveries is exhilarating. There may never come a period as wonderful as the coming era. Mark my words.

Biggest Dump of New Exoplanets

In what could be the biggest dump of new exoplanet discoveries ever announced in one day, today marks the announcement of 30+ new exoplanet discoveries. Plus some new Brown Dwarfs to go along with it.
As of writing, we now have 403 total known exoplanets!

And here's what even more remarkable: We have just reached the 400th mark of total known exoplanets on the same year that we are celebrating the 400th Anniversary of Astronomy. Isn't it amazing?!

Though my list is not complete, here are some of the new exoplanet discoveries:
HIP5158 b
HD103197 b
GJ 433 b
GJ 667C b
HIP 12961 b
GJ 676A b

New Exoplanets that belong to Multiple Planet Systems:
HD215497 b, c
HD125612 b, c, d
BD-082823 b, c
HD103197 b, c

New Brown Dwarfs:
HIP103019 b
HD103197 b

*HD125612 b was previously known, so it's re-announcement can be considered as a verification.
There is so much to look into that i will leave it at this for now. You may head to the Exoplanet Encyclopedia (http://www.exoplanet.eu) to get more details on the new exoplanets.

One thing to note are the Brown Dwarf discoveries, one of which has been decided into being considered as an exoplanet (HD 85390 b) within the last few hours. We all know that some low mass Brown Dwarfs lie occupy the same mass range as those of large gas giant planets.
Some even consider Brown Dwarfs as "failed stars". A few years ago there have been some debate as to whether some low-mass Brown Dwarfs be considered as planets or stars. As more and more of them are discovered, i expect a mild resurgence of this healthy debate in the exoplanet communities.
But for now, I'd just like to smile. It's just great to start a monday with this kind of news.

October 11, 2009

Pandorum: Bad News for Extrasolar Spacefarers

The good news: We've found another habitable planet. And we're on our way there.

The bad news: Pandorum.

Pandorum outlines some horrifying things that could happen to spacefaring humans during a trip to another habitable exoplanet. A psychological sickness called "Pandorum" is just one of the many problems that humans may encounter along the way...plus some flesh-eating mutants.

Inside the colony spaceship called Elysium is where most of the action happens: the psychological thriller, battle with mutant creatures, gore, suspense, terror, and mystery.

Mystery is a key part of the movie. Pandorum must be treated as a puzzle to appreciate it. Thus it may not appeal to those who think linearly.

The Elysium spaceship is a kind of mystery in itself. I wondered about how the human colony of tens of thousands would grow their food to support such a large number of people on such a long journey. It is, however not a problem for the "other" passengers on the ship: The humans are their food! The designer of the colony ship seem not a big fan of windows, for a big reason: windows would've obliterated the punchline of the movie. You have to see it to solve the mystery. :)

I have to give credit to Pandorum for being the first scifi thriller movie that deals with the plot that has all the hallmarks of Exoplanetology: Mankind detects a habitable world, successfully sends a probe there, receives back the probe's signal that confirms the presence of life, then Humanity sends the first colony to explore that exoplanet.

Furthermore, the creators of this movie were able to fuse a spine-tingling story around that plot in an excellent manner. Thus it makes Pandorum my favorite scifi thriller movie.

October 7, 2009

SETI+Exoplanetology on TED

Those glaring eyes peered deep into my soul. Jill Tarter speaks and produces an inspiring piece at TED. Please take a moment to watch the entirety of this wonderful talk. It is special.

With Subtitle:

October 4, 2009

Exoplanetology on TED Talks

I love TED Talks. A few months ago, I wished that someone do a talk on Exoplanets. And here's a dream come true! Please welcome Garik Israelian talk about stars, exoplanets and how spectroscopy could reveal alien life.