September 29, 2008

Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds

Penn State University has recently opened up a Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds. Directed by Alex Wolszczan, Evan Pugh professor of astronomy and astrophysics, the center is devoted to broad, interdisciplinary research in the field of extrasolar planets, to promoting collaborations among scientists, and to improving science education at Penn State and among the general public.
Wolszczan discovered the first planets ever found outside our solar system in 1992, catapulting the field of extrasolar-planet studies into the forefront of astrophysics. Wolszczan had observed tiny fluctuations in the arrival times of the regular signals from a pulsar -- a telltale sign of the presence of orbiting planets around the rapidly spinning neutron star.
Three years later, the first extra-solar planet around a normal solar-like star, named "51 Pegasi b," was identified by Mayor and Didier Queloz. As of today, scientists have discovered more than 300 planets accompanying various types of stars.
The principal objective of research in the field of Exoplanetology is to find planets where living organisms exist, and to determine their rate of occurrence in the universe.
The research on exoplanets and the search for life is intertwined. Opening up a center focused on this field is welcome news for all enthusiasts of the burgeoning field of Exoplanetology.


September 24, 2008

Infinite Worlds

Infinite Worlds
If there is any book at all that best captures Exoplanetology--The Art and Science of Exoplanets, then it is this book: Infinite Worlds by Ray Villard and Lynnette Cook.
If there is any book at all that best captures Exoplanetology--The Art and Science of Exoplanets and Life on other Worlds, then it is this book: Infinite Worlds by Ray Villard and Lynnette Cook. This book is truly a masterpiece worth having in the bookshelf of those who are enthralled by other worlds and beckoned by the prospect of life in other planets.
Although it has been published several years ago, this book will never cease to inspire the next generation of space explorers, and will continue to foster the momentum in exoplanet research by way of inspiration and imagination.
Prior to 1992 there were no known planets orbiting stars outside our own solar system. But the next few years have seen fast-paced developments in astronomy where over 300 extrasolar planets have been discovered by 2008--with more discoveries surely on the way.
Though it will be a few more years before we have compelling direct images of these far-flung worlds, this lavishly illustrated book gives us an idea of what they might look like.
A fascinating exploration of Exoplanetology written for a wide audience, Infinite Worlds brings together Lynette Cook's internationally renowned astronomical artwork, the latest and most dramatic images from the world's top observatories, and scientific findings on subjects ranging from stellar evolution and planetary formation to a possible universe filled with countless planets and life forms.
The newly discovered exoplanets are boggling astronomers' minds with their bizarre characteristics, including an unimagined diversity of sizes and orbits. In Lynette Cook's scientifically based illustrations, we glimpse the landscapes and atmospheres that might adorn these planets. Ray Villard's text elegantly describes the state of astronomy today, imagines where it will take us in the coming years, ponders the chances of success for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), and explores the survivability of life in an evolving and accelerating universe.

Lynnette Cook's SpaceArt

September 20, 2008

Molecules in the Atmosphere of Exoplanets

There will be a workshop entitled "MOLECULES IN THE ATMOSPHERE OF EXTRASOLAR PLANETS" which will be held in Observatoire de Paris, Cassini Hall, November 19-21, 2008.

More details about the workshop can be found in this link: Molecules 2008 and you may register directly via this page : Registration Page

Below are some more details about the event:

Exoplanets are being discovered at an ever accelerating pace. As a result planetary scientists and astronomers are increasingly called upon to make the transition from discovery to characterization, so that we can begin the long journey of understanding these planets in the same way that we understand those in our own Solar System. Among the known exoplanets, hot-Jupiters and hot-Neptunes that transit their parent stars present the first real opportunities to determine key compositional and atmospheric parameters.

The atmospheres of transiting hot-Jupiters are now starting to be probed for water vapour, carbon/nitrogen/sulphur bearing molecules. The results will provide us with a first insight on the photochemical composition and escape processes on the atmospheres of hot-Jupiters, and pave the way to do such studies on hot-Neptunes, super-Earths, and finally Earth-mass planets. This is a necessary step before proceeding with the study of cooler planets.

The workshop aims at bringing together different scientific communities:
solar system planetary scientists, brown dwarf and exoplanet modellers and observers, molecular spectroscopy and instrument development experts. We will cover different topics: radiative transfer, line lists, photochemical models, dynamics, observations using ground based facilities (high-resolution spectroscopy in the optical and in the IR), and space-based observations. Present day's results will be discussed in the context of the preparation of upcoming warm SPITZER, JWST, SPICA, and the next generation of direct detection mission concepts from ground and space.

Scientific Organising Committee : J.P. Beaulieu (co-chair), T. Guillot, H. Lammer, D. Latham, D. Lin, J.P. Maillard, I. Ribas (co-chair), J. Schneider, F. Selsis, J. Tennyson, G. Tinetti (co-chair), S. Udry.
Local Organising Committee : V. Batista, D. Kipping
Confirmed speakers : A. Aylward, C. Beichman, B. Bezard, A. Bocaletti, A.
Burgasser, A. Burrows, S. Carey, W. Cash, D. Charbonneau, J. Cho, A.
Collier-Cameron, V. Coud du Foresto, R. Gratton, J. Harrington, H.
Knutson, H. Lammer, J.P. Maillard, S. Miller, A. Noriega-Crespo,
F. Selsis, E Serabyn, A. Showman, J. Schneider, M. Swain, J. Tennysson,
G.Vasisht, Y. Yung.

Abstracts for contributed papers and posters should be submitted by
September 29 online.

Registration fees : 200 euros

Proceedings will be published by the ASP Conference Series in 2009.

Final program released on October 15, 2008.

If anyone wishes to sponsor my ticket to Paris (and the 200 euros registration fees for this event) you may send me an email at metapsyche at yahoo dot com to initiate the process. :)

September 16, 2008

Exoplanetology to push Science2.0 to a new level

As many of you may have noticed, Exoplanetology is pretty much entrenched in several Web2.0 outfits such as Freebase, Twine, Netvibes, SocialMedian, Technorati.
Under the hood, Exoplanetology is using (or would be using) APIs and utilities from the likes of Google, Yahoo(pipes), Zoho, openKapow, Tumblr, WetPaint, RSSMixer, FeedBurner, Flickr and so on, not to mention the involvement in several social and media hubs like MyBlogLog, BlogCatalog, BlogBurst, BlogRush, LibraryThing, IntenseDebate, Delicious and oh! did I forget Twitter?
This is the exact reason why I am aiming to visit the ongoing Web2.0 Expo in NY at the Jacob Javits Center.

My goal?

Simply to move Exoplanetology and Science2.0 to a new level.

September 15, 2008

Young Exoplanet says "Cheese!"

Young ExoplanetIn what may be the first ever picture of an Exoplanet orbiting a sun-like star, the image shown is of a young star named J160929.1-210524 and its potential planet. This extrasolar system lies 500 light-years from Earth and the exoplanet has been measured to have a mass 8 times that of Jupiter.
Until now, the only planet-like bodies that have been directly imaged outside of the solar system are either free-floating in space, or orbit brown dwarfs, which are dim and make it easier to detect planetary companions.
The Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii was used to take the images utilizing adaptive optics technology to dramatically reduce distortions caused by the Earth’s atmosphere. The near-infrared images and spectra of the suspected exoplanet indicate that it is too cool to be a star or even a more massive brown dwarf, and that it is young. Taken together, such findings confirm that it is a very young, very low-mass object at roughly the same distance from Earth as the star.
Although it will take up to two years to verify the validity of this photograph the method used by the team is quite ingenious by "..targetting young stars so that any planetary mass object they hosted would not have had time to cool, and thus would still be relatively bright. This is one reason we were able to see it at all.”


NASA boosts Exoplanetology with Sagan Fellowships

In what may well be a boost to Exoplanetology, the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute announced in September 2008 the introduction of the Sagan Postdoctoral Fellowship Program and solicits applications for fellowships. This probably is NASA's response to the the staggering pace of of discovery of planets beyond our solar system, called exoplanets with more than 300 currently known.
The Sagan Fellowships support outstanding recent postdoctoral scientists to conduct independent research that is broadly related to the science goals of the NASA Exoplanet Exploration area. The primary goal of missions within this program is to discover and characterize planetary systems and Earth-like planets around nearby stars.
The Sagan Fellowships in Exoplanet Exploration was created to inspire the next generation of explorers seeking to learn more about planets, and possibly life, around other stars.
Decades ago, long before any exoplanets had been found, the late Carl Sagan imagined such worlds, and pioneered the scientific pursuit of life that might exist on them. NASA's new Sagan fellowships will allow talented young scientists to tread the path laid out by Sagan. The program will award stipends of approximately $60,000 per year, for a period of up to three years, to selected postdoctoral scientists. Topics can range from techniques for detecting the glow of a dim planet in the blinding glare of its host star, to searching for the crucial ingredients of life in other planetary systems. The proposed research may be theoretical, observational, or instrumental. The selections will be announced in February 2009.
"Only a select few scientists carry the insight, vision and persistence to open entire new vistas on the cosmos," said Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and Frederick P. Rose director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. "We know about Einstein. We know about Hubble. Add to this list Carl Sagan, who empowered us all -- scientists as well as the public -- to see planets not simply as cosmic objects but as worlds of their own that could harbor life."