June 29, 2008

The Search for Earth-like Planets

This is a very informative clip of the conference on The Search for Earth-like Planets.

June 28, 2008

Of Creatures and Planets

Spore's Creature Creator seems to be a big hit. It is 'only' a game but it actually has a lot of potential to teach science. On the other hand, it could also use a bit of science to make the art of designing creatures a bit more challenging than just the parameters of limbs and skin tones.
See, everybody knows that creature physiology depends much on it's environment. On a grander scale, a creature's appearance and characteristics are directly influenced by its home planet.
For example: A terrestrial exoplanet that has a lesser surface gravity than earth might turn up animals that are tall and skinny - as how Martian beings (if any!) would probably look like - because the surface gravity of Mars is only 38% of Earth's gravity. While a massive rocky planet that has ten times more surface gravity would produce juggernaut-like or hulk-like beings with massive bones, powerful muscles or strong exoskeletons. Jovian planets might turn up jello-like creatures - the sort that might look like a mix between stingrays and jellyfish.
Now, since creatures in the Spore game are supposed evolve and to battle it out with other creatures from other planets (come September when the Spore universe finally launches), it seems logical that planet characteristics must be a major component of the game, unless in-game technology supersedes planetary factors such as anti-gravity beams or radiation shields.
The timing of Spore is perfect, with regards to the deluge of exoplanets and so-called "Super-Earths" that are being discovered monthly. So I wonder if Will Wright will ever come up with a "Spore Planet Creator" or perhaps a "Planet Plugin" for the Creature Creator to affect the appearance of creatures, based upon the characteristics of planets.
It's not a bad start for Spore, though. In fact, it's awesome! The creatures are cute and lovable. My se7en-year-old son became engrossed with the creatures he created, which we shared up on Sporepedia.
I named my creature Gravitor - he lives on a planet with 20g (20 times the earth's gravity) hence, he's a bit flattened and needs an extra pair of powerful legs to add support to the length of his body.
Overall, I'm very happy about the concept of this game. It's a great way to integrate Exoplanetary Science, Astrobiology and Gaming. Kudos to Will wright and his legion of game developers.

June 20, 2008

Super-Earth vs. ExoGaia

Gliese 876 dSuper-Earth. It conjures a visceral imagery of an earthy ocean-blue in our minds. Just because it contains the word "Earth" brings people to think that it is similar to our world - full of life, and well...Earth-like.
The truth is that it is a misnomer.
The basis of any terrestrial exoplanet being called a Super-Earth is based on mass. Whenever a rocky exoplanet is a bit more massive than the Earth, specifically up to 10 times the mass of the earth, then it falls into the criterion of a "Super-Earth".
Yet, nobody really knows if any given Super-Earth is similar to our Earth. It may have a different climate, or different surface features (icy/dry), different atmosphere. The list of differences may go on, and by far outweighs the similarities. Yet we still choose to name it Super-Earth. The exact history behind the word evades me, but it tells me something about humanity's yearning to find a twin of our home, possibly fueled by our desire to find out if life is unique to our planet - if we are alone in the universe.
This brings me to the question: what if exoplanetologists finds an exoplanet that has exactly the same mass as the earth...and has Life? Earth's Twin - it has got to be called 'ExoGaia'. Welcome to the beginning of the ExoGaia Hypothesis.
And so, the search for ExoGaia continues...

June 10, 2008

What We Still Don't Know (Documentary)

A documentary about searching for the answer to the fascinating question "Are We Alone?" Touches upon Exoplanets and Exobiology. Perfect for Exoplanetology!

June 7, 2008

SpaceCollective: Forward-thinking Terrestrials

Space CollectiveI came across this awesome site called SpaceCollective that features wonderful insights about Space, Science and the Future, and explores the inner, outer and cyber space. I've watched all of their videos and they are all so inspiring and thought-provoking. Man is a Space-farer, and the human mind is an explorer of Futures. SpaceCollective rolls both into one, and it stays true to their mantra of living science fiction today.

Past Exhibit about Exoplanets @ AMNH

Exoplanet ExhibitI missed this exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Its no longer on display but I'm still posting about it anyway as they have this neat informative website about a couple of tools used in searching for exoplanets - The Coronagraph and Interferometer.

June 2, 2008

Space Matters

FreebaseLet me tell you a story: I noticed that the exoplanet count on the freebase exoplanet catalogue were bigger than what should be. It should only be 293 as of writing.
So I started to check the list on freebase. It turned out that there were duplicate entries for some exoplanets. The dupes turned out to be caused by the fact that the exoplanet naming convention were quite prone to a very peculiar error - the ommission of a simple space. For example: XO-1b should be XO-1 b. So i started correcting them on freebase. I renamed some exoplanets by adding the space between the host star name and the letter to denote the planet. (The naming convention is best explained on my previous post entitled "What's in an exoplanet's name?")
Then I noticed that some of the mis-named exoplanets were imported from Wikipedia - the source of the error. So now, I am spending some time correcting the names of exoplanets on Wikipedia.
The moral of the story is that "Space Matters". A simple error in the naming convention - such as a thing as mundane as a "space" can create lots of work, specially when it ripples across different services on the web, moreso when it involves databases where every "character" counts - even the space.
Moving forward, this is a call for everyone who would be entering future exoplanet data into Wikipedia/Freebase to please be wary of the "space".
In the next few months and years, tons of exoplanets will be discovered and paying close attention to detail (naming convention) will greatly help the community involved in cataloguing all these new exoplanets in an open database such as freebase.
Remember, the 'space' between a planet and its parent star (the distance between them) matters for life to flourish.