November 12, 2009

The Leonid Exoplanets

In November 1833, Astronomers noticed an unusual number of meteors that seemed to emanate from the Leo constellation. It has come to be called The Leonids, a meteor shower with an amazing display of light caused by dust and debris from a comet. This comet, named "Tempel-Tuttle" visits the inner solar system every 33 years and leaves a stream of dusty debris in its wake. When the Earth crosses that stream of dust, the particles gets swept in the upper atmosphere and burn up as dazzling streaks of light.

Come November 17, 2009--we will be given a treat to see this grand display under the predawn sky. The Leonids will be a major show this year, specially that the Earth will pass through a pair of streams laid down by Comet Tempel-Tuttle in 1466 and 1533 AD. The double crossing could yield as many as 300 Leonids per hour. Another great thing is that Mars happens to be along the radiant of the the Leonids, so it would appear that meteors are emanating from Mars!

Because I often think of exoplanets when gazing at the starry night sky, exogazing has been part of my activity. Thus it has become customary for me to chart known exoplanets within the field of view of meteor showers.

Below is a compilation of The Leonid Exoplanets that will keep me busy while waiting for the meteorite streaks to pour--which would be around 30 per hour in my area in Northern America and 300 streaks per hour in Asia.

To date, there are 9 stars that host a total of 10 exoplanets within the Leo constellation (but they will grow in large numbers soon). One of them hosts 2 of the planets listed below. Unfortunately, most of these stars can not be seen with the naked eye, especially in light-polluted areas--as they are fainter than magnitude 7 (visual magnitude listed below). You can use binoculars but of course, you better put it down when the Leonid streaks come pouring in. Meteor showers are best viewed with the naked eyes.

UPDATE! The only Leonid Exoplanet in my list that can be seen with the naked eye is Gamma Leonis 1 b, which orbits one of the brightest stars in the Leo Constellation! Gamma Leonis 1 b, orbiting around Algeiba--was confirmed just a few days ago! Yes! This exoplanet wanted to join the Leonid Exogazing event this year! This exoplanet actually pushed the total number of known exoplanets to 404!

The star chart I generated from Google Sky would give you an idea where they are so you can approximately point at them in the sky while telling your friends and family about these other Worlds.

Here's the KMZ file and the Leonid Exoplanets listed at Freebase if you want more details on the exoplanets themselves.
Don't forget to set the alarm to wake up very early and enjoy the Leonid show with your friends and family. It will be a memorable event I am pretty sure!

*HD 89484 b (Gamma 1 Leonis b) 2.1
HD 99492 b 7.57
HD 81040 b 7.72
Gliese 436 b 10.68
BD-20 2457 b 9.75
BD-20 2457 c 9.75
HD 100777 b 8.42
HD 88133 b 8.01
HD 89307 b 7.06
HD 99109 b 9.1

More Links:

About Leonids
From Physorg
Viewing Tips

November 4, 2009

Life is a Pattern

"Life is a pattern." He whispered in an epiphany of realization as he gazed at the patchwork of visualizations displayed on the walls of his control room. Inside the room was an amazing view of a menagerie of extrasolar planets, exomoons and hypothetical microbes and extremophiles that may thrive on the planetary environments. This was a facility doing research on Planetary Science and Astrobiology.

The control room tapped a powerful cloud computing grid with a database that tracked thousands of extrasolar systems. Parameters for the simulations are updated by planet-hunting teams from around the world. Information such as planetary mass, type of planet, distance from the host star, orbital period, chemical make-up, atmospheric density and so on, were fed into a powerful AI software running in the cloud. It's aim was to virtually "find" exolife even before it was discovered in the real world. It was the largest open collaboration of Astronomers, Astrobiologists and Astrophysicists ever set up, and backed up by the leading Computer Scientists.

Throughout the years of manning the control room, Dalro Villaramas has garnered some insight to come up with a solution that might revolutionize the way to search other forms of life. The secret, he thought was to view life in a new way. He was certain that his idea would expand the methods to detect life into other platforms beyond the water-based or carbon-based forms that we know of. He rubbed his hands together excitedly as he decided that he was going to start writing an ArXiv paper. He was going to tell the whole world about it.

Suddenly, he was startled by his manager who barged into the room as he spoke hurriedly, "Dalro, there's a new planet that was detected. Its nothing that's ever been found in history..."

"Hey that's great! But...why do you look so...grim? Are you ok?"

It was odd, very different than the usual when he informs him of new exoplanet discoveries. Instead of the bright sparkle in his eyes, it was glazed. He proceeded, "...please run a simulation of how it would affect the planets in our solar"

"What?! Did we just find a new planet in our solar system?"

"Yes...and, no. The planet is now within our solar system but it came from somewhere else. As we speak, a rogue planet--a Planemo is barreling its way toward our Sun. Amateur Astronomers just detected it after it entered our heliosphere and showed signs of its presence. The parameters are being fed into the grid in real-time. Start the process now and feed the results back to the global network. Please hurry, we don't have much time..."

Dalro hammered on the keyboards and directed all computing resources to this job. In a few minutes, the walls were filled with a view as if from a spaceship's cockpit looking down at the solar system. The 'hypervelocity' Planemo was travelling so fast, way too fast.

For the next few minutes, the simulation showed what would happen--most of the planets would be disturbed from their orbits. The massive planemo would miss Pluto but disturb the Kuiper belt scattering thousands of rocks. It would graze close to Neptune, and hemmorhage Uranus, and distort the rings of Saturn. As it wobbles Jupiter, several moons would be yanked out. Then he gasped as he saw the spheriod rock dig deeper in the solar system. Earth and it's moon would be flung from orbit in a slingshot effect--out into interstellar space.

The alarm sounded in the background. The commotion was now starting to stir other countries around the world. The earth was shaking.

Dalro was now alone in the room. He stood watching the simulated view of the Earth as it made its way out into the cold, dark empty space. The simulation stopped.

He closed his eyes. Images of all his loved ones flashing in his mind, fading with images of Earth--frozen in mid-chaos.

"Life is a pattern..." he whispered as he started to shiver. The temperature was dropping too fast. Darkness fell. Then silence.

November 2, 2009

A Roller Coaster Ride with Kepler

It was a carefree feeling glancing at the beautiful sunset while speeding and spinning through the towering steel structures. There were few people at Six Flags on their last night of the season so the lines were quick for the roller coaster rides. As night came, I hopped on to Nitro. And as our coaster positioned itself on the steep incline, I was amused that it was directly aimed at the Moon. The view was amazing. As I gazed around further at the clear night sky, I immediately recognized Cygnus. And of course, I couldn't help but think of the Kepler telescope staring at that same patch of sky. And for a couple of minutes as we slowly inched our way up, I was exogazing.

When Kepler was launched on March earlier this year, I was very happy. It was the telescope that could find earth's twin and probably help mankind answer one of our deepest questions.

A few days after Kepler's launch, I became worried about some silly things. For one, I thought that they launched Kepler but forgot to remove the "lens cap". Its a kind of joke that you can laugh about, but which might have been a nightmare if the protective cover didn't pop out at all. Then Kepler went through a some troubles, such as going into safe mode.

Then, everything seemed to work fine for the next few months as Kepler succesfully confirmed some data for a known exoplanet. I was very happy. Kepler was showing a lot of promise.

Until one day, entropy caught up with it.


Last week, news came out that the Kepler had some "noisy" electronics that was affecting the data. And the fix for the software probably wouldn't come until 2011, delaying the chance to find Earth-sized planets. I was sad once more.

Suddenly, I was headed down. Our coaster crossed the peak and started barreling down at top speed. It was exhilarating. And in no time at all I was on my way up again for a 360 degree loop.

You see, Just this morning i heard that Kepler is actually doing well according to William Borucki, the project leader. He said that the news concerning Kepler's woes were inaccurate. If there's anyone who'd probably have emotional ups and down in the ongoing saga of the mission, then it must be this soft-spoken man and the Kepler team. But i have to admit that I am being taken on a ride. But it's all good. I can see that the story of man's quest to discover other worlds is filled with many ups and downs--with some twists and turns along the way.

Comparing the ongoing planet-hunt saga to a roller coaster ride may not be too far-fetched. Moreso that the best loop is yet to come. Yes, the quest for other worlds is a wild ride. I simply raise my arms up and scream.

November 1, 2009

EVE's Planetary Interaction

As a follow-up to my previous post about EVE's exoplanetary upgrades to their Dominion expansion, here's what i found out:

By December 2009, the graphical upgrade will affect all 50,000 planets and several hundred thousand moons inside EVE. Each of them are unique with procedurally-generated textures and colors. Clouds move!

Gamers will have more Planetary Interaction. That means more engagement closer to the planets in low orbit. Players will get treats such as owning planets, managing and developing and manufacturing stuff on planets, and controlling the lives of people in the planets. Many of my questions from my previous post were answered. And from the looks of it, EVE's planetary upgrade is definitely impressive.

Of course, "procedurally generated" textures means that there's plenty of physics, math and planetary science in it. It's also fantastic to know that there's 50,000 planets inside a virtual game! And several hundred thousand moons just blows me away. All this is definitely a win. More power to EVE Online!

All the photos below are from the EVE Fanfest 2009

The topic on Planets starts at 23 minutes through the clip below.