March 31, 2012

Planets Outnumber the Stars. Planets Outlive the Stars

So I finally had the chance to attend a lecture from Debra Fischer, one of the great Exoplaneteers of our time. I managed to catch the last portion of her lecture, "Searching for Earthlike Worlds" at The American Museum of Natural History in NYC.

During the Q&A section, I raised my hand in an almost desperate manner to get to ask the last question but I wasn't selected by the moderator. So after the end of the lecture, when I started to walk toward the stage, I was surprised that she recognized me and knew I was the guy from all the way at the back of the room who desperately wanted to ask her something (planet-hunters truly have sharp eyes and a keen sense of observation!)

She went down from the stage, just so she could hear me ask the question face to face. I shook her hands and felt it a great honor to finally meet a great planet-hunter in person. She was keen to give her full attention to all other people who had questions as well. Though she is involved in searching for other earths, she's still a down-to-earth person! A very nice lady indeed!

So I proceeded to ask my question and it went something like this:

"We now know that planets outnumber the stars, right? In light of the recent findings from a survey of planets around red dwarfs, will it be that, even though red dwarfs live for a very long time, planets will outlive the stars?"

Yes, she said. Planets will outlive the stars. She also mentioned that not only do M-dwarfs live for a very long time, they're also the most common and numerous type of stars, comprising around 70% of stars in the galaxy. She added that this is the reason why a lot of planet-hunters are focused on finding planets around M-dwarfs.

Until the lights in the auditorium grew dim, Dr. Fischer proceeded to answer all other questions with enthusiasm. And she did not fail to mention her ongoing effort to find planets around the Alpha Centauri system. She is positive that even though the Centauri binary system is separated by around 25AU, it doesn't rule out the possibility that planets can still exist in a tight orbit around each star (she also mentioned that Proxima Centauri is actually on its way to leave the centauri system, on a weird trajectory away from the galaxy's disc). Even though it's been difficult with lack of funding, she still periodically makes trips back to the telescope in Chile--hopeful and persistent to find planets around Alpha Centauri.

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