December 16, 2008

Post-Launch Hangover

What a memorable day it was! December 12, 2008 (12/12/08) The brightest full moon, the earliest sunset, and the launch of under the romantic moonlight with my beloved wife. Interestingly, news about exomoons came the day after.
Many thanks to all who appreciated the newly-launched portal and contemplated upon the accompanying "exoplanethinking" blog post to mark it's launch.
Being a newcomer, I wasn't prepared for the warm welcome of the online space community. So I send a planet-load of Thank you's to these space bloggers, mainly Davin of The Perfect Silence, and NiteSkyGirl for their cool reviews of the site. Thank you also to those who enthusiastically expressed approval of the site via some tweets, diggs or linkages.
As it stands, the site is still in beta, and it will be a lifelong endeavor to maintain the site. Support of the developer community is also worth noting, hence you can expect new cool things to pop-up in the site soon.
Some of the things you can expect in the near future are a freebased-widget (possibly similar to planetQuest's exoplanet counter widget), some more jQuery usage for slicker interactiviy - such as for the interface of the image gallery of exoplanets, a deeper integration with the Arxiv API for researchers, more usage of the daylife API, and perhaps some cool Tees and stuff via Cafepress, Zazzle, or Threadless.
Wow! We got a lot of stuff in store for exo-2009.
Thanks to all! Exo-ho-ho-ho!

December 12, 2008

Exoplanetary Thinking

Certain things happen to an individual who acts as a steward of this particular word, domain, or an entirely new field of science called Exoplanetology. It is new, and quite odd, having been derived from an alien-sounding word -- exoplanet, it ended up sounding humorous and brings up a cultic or thingamaphoooey tone. Yes, it is totally out of this world, but it is a word whose time has come.
Exoplanetology is unique. It is the overall Thought and study of external planets relative to the Sun and our home planet, but it will always involve our own planet, because it is relative to Earth. So there will always be a "personal" touch.
When I decided to take stewardship of the word (and domain), this word has taken hold of the mind of it's steward. In the process of developing this website, a certain kind of Thought began to pervade my mindset, as I became immersed in thinking about the earth, planets, exoplanets, new worlds, suns, galaxies, and life.
SunsetCould it be what we might call "Exoplanetary thinking"? Because I never think of the Sun the same way again. It is a star, one among billions, and I am standing on one of it's planets - a habitable one for me and all life I share it with.
On the other hand, I never gaze at stars thinking the same way again. They are other Suns, sign-posts for other solar systems with their own planets and moons, and possibly - Life.
I never looked at the horizon the same way again, with the setting or rising sun radiating marvelous rays, almost saying that just like light, the imperative of life is to spread far far away from where it started before it gets extinguished by the very spark that sustains it.
I never looked at the ocean and it's waves the same way again, that it is a magnificent experience just to feel the wind and the water and know that it is the whole planet touching my face.
I never took a deep breath the same way again, without the thought of mankind's responsibility for the planet, and the future of the biosphere at the hands of humanity.
Words will not fully express the mindset of an exoplanetary thinker. It will not suffice to tell of how one's view of earth gets changed by the knowledge of other worlds around other suns, and the idea of life in those planets, all this amidst the ongoing peril of one's home planet to the growing threat of runaway global warming.
It's been said that life is what we make it, thus we are at the cusp of a magnificent period in the history of mankind, where our history joins with the history of cosmic life, or it may well be the end.
We are at the edge of a revolution that is as great, if not greater than the Copernican revolution, or we may be one great tragedy.
Whence it was the realization that we are not the center of the world, or the universe, this time we will realize - we are not center of Life (and of Intelligent Life), but we have become the steward of life in our small corner of the galaxy, a special role to fulfill.
We are at a decision point where we could end up as another extinct civilization - an interesting subject of study for alien intergalactic historians and explorers. Or we could be those future extrasolar and intergalactic explorers, if we learned the proper stewardship of life.
We are at the crux of history and we are undergoing a shift in global and planetary thinking. Our children will grow up in a world knowing they are interplanetary citizens and awesome stewards of life. Welcome to the future and welcome to a brave new world.
And with Exoplanetology, I welcome you to the era of new worlds.

December 6, 2008

Students turned Planet-hunters

Student Planet-hunters: Francis Vuijsje, Meta de Hoon, and Remco van der Burg
Congratulations to the three students from the netherlands who turned out to be planet-hunters. Francis Vuijsje, Meta de Hoon, and Remco van der Burg discovered a very hot exoplanet called OGLE-TR-L9 b around a fast-spinning star.
More details about their discovery will be published in the forthcoming issue of the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, but a glimpse of their story hints that the discovery is almost serendipitous: the students detected the exoplanet while testing a method for investigating light fluctuations of thousands of stars in the OGLE database in an automated way.
They combed through OGLE's database to sift through massive amounts of data and found the tell-tale pattern of a planet's existence from the fluctuations on the starlight detected over time.
OGLE stands for Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment. It is a Polish astronomical project based at Warsaw University that is chiefly concerned with discovering dark matter using the Microlensing technique. Since the project began in 1992, it has discovered several extrasolar planets as a side benefit.
You see, OGLE itself might not have been originally designed to hunt for exoplanets, and that makes it all the more fun serendipitously discovering gems.
Where the recent exoplanet discoveries that made headlines were made via direct imaging method, this one was discovered via some cool pattern-finding algorithms that sifted through differential photometry datasets from OGLE.
This method could usher in a new era for amateur exoplanetology, specially when the deluge of data from the new generation of space telescopes comes, and is made accessible to the public.
And so, many other "hidden" exoplanets could be lurking not only out there in space, but "inside" the hard-drives and database of OGLE that contain photometric data, and the tell-tale patterns of the existence of exoplanets are still be waiting to be discovered.

From Livescience

November 25, 2008

Planetology, A Primer to Exo

PlanetologyWhat happens when you team up together a geologist and an astronaut? You get this book, Planetology. It's a good primer for anyone who wants to begin exploring planets and worlds more alien than the planets within our own solar system. After all, one should get familiar with the local neighborhood before venturing out farther to extrasolar systems.
Starting with our home planet, magnificent earth gives us insights about other worlds. And that's where planetary geologist Ellen Stofan and astronaut Tom Jones pair images of Earth with astonishing scenes of alien surfaces beamed home by NASA’s robotic probes. This portrait of our solar system brings into view important contrasts between Earth and its neighbors in space.
This is a good book with vivid pictures of our local neighborhood, plus it contains a good introduction to exoplanets. Planetology first, then Exoplanetology.

November 19, 2008

Rhythm of Life

Rhythm CreatureIf anyone ever noticed the dynamic nature of our universe, one would not miss the property of rhythm embedded within the cosmic infrastructure.
The most obvious is the day and night cycle. Everyone knows it is a result of earth's rotation. Everything seems to be spinning, revolving, rotating -- galaxies, stars, planets and moons.
Now how does this relate to life?
Beginning with yourself, o mortal being, your whole life and consciousness rests upon rhythm and cycle. Your mind and body would not even survive without sleep for more than a week, er maybe a month for some.
The effect of "spin" naturally ripples all the way to the metabolism and physiology of any lifeform that manages to evolve within a "spinning" system.
Lets take a look at how rhythm affects all life on earth: The sleep cycle of every animal on earth is a natural outcome of the day and night caused by a spinning earth. Hibernation is caused by the seasons, a result of earth's tilted axis of rotation. Still other biological processes such as metamorphosis, bird migrations, and mating seasons (everybody's favorite) can be attributed to planetary characteristics of orbit and rotation.
There is no doubt, rhythm is embedded in the cosmos, and ultimately within life itself. Rhythm is one of the properties of life that is seldom mentioned, and yet is one of the primal screams of life itself.
Wherever life exists, on earth, in other planets of other suns, we can be sure that it is definitely ruled by rhythm as well.
Hinging on the fact that most exoplanets discovered so far have elliptical orbits, and speculating upon those whose orbits at least intersect the relative habitable zone, we can expect organisms that develop on that planet to adapt to the cycle of extreme weather patterns and seasons. It will "learn" to "hibernate" during a freezing season when its planet is farthest from its star, and "wake up" when its planet comes closer to its sun.
That was just an example, perhaps a little extreme to illustrate a point--but we can be sure of countless ways on how rhythm may be implemented in an almost infinite number of planets in the universe, each with it's own unique combinations of orbit, rotation, axis tilt, and so on.
And along with those planetary properties, comes the dizzying variety of how the resulting rhythm and cycle affects the development of life on those planets. We can expect those alien lifeforms to have a fair share of the similar rhythmic cycles we know of, such as sleep, hibernation, menstruation, migrations, metamorphoses and other forms of cyclical rhythms that are common to all forms of life.
The diversity of cosmic life, based solely on planet-induced rhythms could be quite unlike anything we've ever imagined, yet on the other hand -- they might behave quite similarly in some way or another, due to the universal rhythm of life.

November 14, 2008

Out into Space with Kepler

Exoplanetology is going to outer space. Yes, hitchin' a ride to space with the Kepler spacecraft. Haven't been able to take off and yet I already have the certificate to prove it. So what the heck is Kepler? Who the heck is Kepler?

Johannes Kepler was a German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer, and key figure in the 17th century Scientific revolution.

The Kepler Mission is a space photometer being developed by NASA to search for Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. It will be launched on March 5, 2009. So you can expect Earth's "twin" to make waves in the news shortly after that date, when Earth-like planets finally get discovered. Until then I will continue to stare at my certificate framed on the wall of my bedroom.

By the way, did I mention that you can get your name out into space, too and get your certificate as well? All the space-bound names will be stored on a DVD and rocketed into space on board the Kepler spacecraft. Just head over to this page and write a very good message or reason why Kepler is important. A copy of the DVD with all of the names and messages will be given to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum. I sure hope they don't put it on Blu-ray because i dont have a blu-ray DVD player yet. I'm sure the aliens do. So make sure you write your hello message in good Klingon. Below is the message I wrote. Can anyone please translate it into Klingon:

"To discover the origin and future of life, and to find out mankind's place in the universe. Knowledge worth knowing within one's own lifetime, a simple truth worth knowing by an entire civilization."


Kepler Certificate

Messages of Kepler
Kepler Official Website

November 13, 2008

Worlds Imaged and Worlds Imagined

Today marks a great stride in how we see exoplanets, which have always remained as figments of our imagination and speculations. Where previous techniques only enable us to infer their existence by way of statistics, light curves, graphs and spectra, the big news today shows us direct images of extrasolar worlds.
While most exoplanets detected to date have been discovered using techniques such as Astrometry, Radial Velocity, Transit Method or Gravitational Microlensing, none would ever cause so much news coverage and impact as a "photograph" of another world. (Twitter went down shortly after the announcement, perhaps due to too many tweets about it). Although a huge bulk of future exoplanet discoveries would continue to be discovered by indirect techniques of planet detection, the method of Direct Imaging will pick up in the coming years, and soon we will finally see a photo of extrasolar continents.
The promise of the next generation of telescopes such as the Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF), James Webb Telescope, Spitzer Telescope, New Worlds Mission, Kepler, and Space Interferometry Mission (SIM), will be bring even more amazing imagery. But hats off to good 'ol Hubble, who continues to bring us stunning pictures, in this case a snapshot of Fomalhaut b.
Artists will continue to bring us closer to these alien worlds, while computer simulations will always provide new insights, but imagination always will be our mind's eye.
Just imagine what goes on inside the mind of a child as you stand together gazing up in the night sky, and you point to a star and say, "that star over there has a planet, yeah that one right there..."
It's amazing, NOW we can finally say it with absolute certainty, just like that.
Just like that.

Other Links:
Discovery Channel
Cosmic Ray
More on FomalHaut b

November 7, 2008

New Worlds: Exoplanet Discoveries from the Spitzer Space Telescope

An upcoming lecture is about the discovery of New Worlds by the Spitzer Space Telescope. As part of the von Karman Lecture Series, it will be held in Pasadena, California on Nov. 13 & 14 (Thu & Fri) at JPL and Pasadena College, respectively.
What's great is that we can also attend via the webcast at 7pm PST.
You must have the free RealPlayer8 Basic to see it.
More information about the lecture is located here.
Here's a summary of what's in store for the lecture:

New discoveries streaming back from the Spitzer Space Telescope continue to surprise and amaze everyone. No one could have predicted some of the amazing things we're finding, not even the mission scientists themselves! Spitzer has proved itself to be a true pioneer in the characterization of extrasolar planets, providing the first real, if crude, weather map of a world around another star over 250 light years away. We're also finding evidence of planet formation in the oddest places, from the cool, dark space around brown dwarfs to the hard-radiation baked environment near neutron stars. Come watch sunrise and sunset around a massive Jupiter-like planet, or trace high-velocity winds on an alien world where we've found water vapor in the cloud-tops. With Spitzer, these new worlds are becoming real places to us, challenging us to imagine even more.

More information about the Spitzer Space Telescope

October 24, 2008

Whole Universe In a Magazine

I don't usually buy magazines at newsstands but this one got the better of me. Discover's Whole Universe magazine is by far the most exoplanetology-centric magazine I've come across so far.
The articles are truly educational and the pictures are amazing. Two of its pages even shows the same image I selected for my past post "Extrasolarise" four months ago.
The only thing I can notice is the inconsistent naming convention of the exoplanet names. I was reminded of the cumbersome process of straightening out the exoplanet duplicates at wikipedia and freebase due to naming convention discrepancies where the space was absent between the star name and exoplanet index. For example, in the article - Forbidden Planets on page 36, Gliese 581d should've been Gliese 581 d.
It's quite trivial I know, and Freebase has now so wonderfully remedied this issue. But leniency to naming conventions would make it difficult to catalog the growing number of exoplanets in the long run.
But still, the magazine is splendid. I would love to come across such a kind of magazine in the newsstands once again.

October 10, 2008

An Exoplanet, its Moon, and Gas Clouds

ExoplanetThis is what hapens when I look too much at exoplanet paintings. Having recently purchased two books that feature the illustrations of Lynette Cook--one of which is Infinite Worlds--I was then inspired to let my imagination run wild, and mess around with Photoshop. What came up was this picture of a terrestrial exoplanet and it's moon with a glowing interstellar cloud in the background.
Both the exoplanet and it's moon is inhabited by alien civilizations. However, the lifeforms on each of them started almost simultaneously, evolved independently and in parallel. Therefore, their ecosystems differ significantly.
The difference in color between the exoplanet and its moon are caused by the distinct chemicals in their atmospheres that are caused by life's unique metabolisms.
The glow in the background is caused by cosmic rays bombarding a giant interstellar gas which cause it to become energetic.
It might be possible that life on both rocks were jump-started and sustained by the energy from the gas cloud.
Basking in an unlikely source of energy, life in this alien planetary system would be so much different than life on earth.
Different. But not impossible.

October 1, 2008

Pluto, Plutoids and Exoplutoids

At first I was saddened when Pluto was demoted from planethood. Then I was amused by the new classification called "plutoids". I love playing with words, but plutoid sounded too funny to me. Why not have Jupiteroid, or even Earthoid? And all the debate that ensued about pluto's demotion just prompted me to call Pluto as the Great Hemorrhoid of Astronomy, because it was painful to "lose" such a planet.
However, we are given a consolation by the fact that Pluto is still a planet in some way, eventhough the IAU denies it being so. Yes, it is actually a dwarf planet, and a first in its class called "plutoids".
So let us examine the heirarchy of these 3 terms: Planet, Dwarf Planet, and Plutoid.
A planet is a round object that orbits the sun. Its large enough for its gravity to clear out the rocks and other debris within its orbital path.
A dwarf planet is also a round object that orbits the sun. But it is too small to have anough gravity to clear out debris in its path. Hence there are other objects sharing its orbital path.
A plutoid in turn, is any dwarf planet that orbits farther out than neptune (a trans-neptunian object or TNO).
Ceres is an example of a dwarf planet. It is round and it orbits the sun in the asteroid belt, along with millions of other smaller objects. Pluto and Makemake are also dwarf planets since they also share their orbital path with other objects , but they are also plutoids, as is Eris. They are plutoids because they orbit farther from the sun than the farthest planet, Neptune.
So currently, some established members of the plutoid class are Pluto, Makemake, Haumea, and Eris. But it could well grow to more than 70 in a few years time as more dwarf planets fall into the class of plutoids.
Unlearning is also part of learning. And this is what progress in Science is all about. Painful and controversial as it may have seemed, the IAU's decision to "demote" pluto was necessary to for a better classification of a bewildering array of celestial objects orbiting our sun. To a certain extent, I support the IAU on their decision (even though it still needs a little tweaking). Most often than not, collective intelligence is smarter than emotions, and I believe it will sway one final tweak to simply put dwarf planets as a subset of the broader term "planet" to settle the debate.
Now what does it hold for Exoplanetology? As it will turn out, the term plutoids would actually make it easier to categorize "extrasolar dwarf planets" that fit in place: Exoplutoids! But it will be decades AFTER planet-hunting capabilities resolve to discovering earth-like planets. Then we may actually discover exoplutoids next.

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."


July 30, 2008

Ephemeral Worlds: Visualizing Exoplanets with Bubbles

Alien WorldIndeed Exoplanetology is the Art and Science of Exoplanets. These photographs of bubbles provide stunning insights into visualizing and imagining how unseen exoplanets might look like. Consider the fact that planets especially Jovian planets like Jupiter, are "bubbles" themselves, albeit gargantuan in scale. The biosphere of the Earth is in fact, a bubble. And by the fractal laws of nature, the surface of bubbles provide a striking resemblance to the appearance of planets with a suitable atmosphere.Alien World
Thus soap bubbles, ephemeral as they may seem - can help in visualizing exoplanets since their surfaces follow the same laws of physics. And as how these photographs by Jason Tozer attests to, exoplanets - like soap bubbles - are also works of art.
One photograph bears a striking resemblance to Jupiter's patterns. I am speculating that if it were photographed in zero-gravity it would look a lot more like Jupiter.
The rest of these otherworldly photographs sets my mind careening into outer space, imagining how exoplanets would look like. To imagine and visualize them is what I can do for now, for to even see a glimpse of them is beyond our lifetime.

July 26, 2008

Interactive: Four Planet-Hunting Methods

Here's a neat interactive from MSNBC providing an overview of 4 Methods of Exoplanet Detection: Astrometry, Radial Velocity, Transit, and Microlensing. Plus a chart of your local backyard sky showing the locations of some major exoplanet discoveries.
(Hover your mouse on the lower left and click on "Planet Finder").

Source: Other Worlds

July 20, 2008

Exosolar Interface

Visualization of Star Sytems and ExoplanetsJust came across this neat "exosolar" interface done in flash. is an astronomy site where you can find about 2000 stars and their components (mostly within 75 lightyears). This flash-based interface was created to help visualize star-systems and exoplanets across galaxies, so you can imagine them in space, instead of reading columns of numbers like in a scientific journal.
The interface is sleek and smooth. Its a quick fun to get familiarized with Stars and their planets. The data is taken from The Internet Stellar Database, which is a welcome new addition to our references for Exoplanetologists.
Kudos and thanks to its maker, a Flash-guru named George Margaris.

July 18, 2008

SETI's Way of Celebrating Science & Imagination

SETIThis coming Saturday, July 19, 2008 there will be an interactive Family Science Fair at the SETI Institute, from 1:00-3:00 p.m. At SETI's Celebrating Science 2008 Family Science Faire, you will have the opportunity to meet SETI Institute scientists and discover what the future holds for SETI and astrobiology and learn about the SETI Institute's pioneering exploration of life, our solar system, and beyond, including the search for signals from other civilizations. You will also get to meet the father of SETI and author of the Drake Equation, Dr. Frank Drake.
The SETI Institute is located at 515 N. Whisman Road, Mountain View CA 94043.
Did I happen to mention that some people from Spore will be there? Oh and by the way, volunteers are needed for the event. I am volunteering as an alien specimen mascot. All I need is a teleporter or a spaceship with a warp drive to get me there from here (East Coast) for tomorrow's big day. Can someone give me a lift, please?

July 17, 2008

Seeing the Earth from Alien Perspective

EarthHere's how the Earth looks like from 31 million miles away. This clip was intended to shed light on how other Earth-like worlds would appear.
“Making a video of Earth from so far away helps the search for other life-bearing planets in the universe by giving insights into how a distant, Earthlike alien world would appear to us.”
The features that are most notable are the "sun-glint" caused by light reflected from Earth’s oceans. Similar glints to be observed from extrasolar planets could indicate the existence of alien oceans.
In infrared, land masses with vegetation are more apparent, because plants reflect more infrared light. Hence, infrared-imaging techniques could be used to observe extrasolar planets for signs of vegetation.
The video was captured by the Deep Impact Probe, whose extended mission now is called EPOXI (Extrasolar Planet Observation eXtended Investigation).

Alien’s-eye view of Earth

July 12, 2008

A Glimpse of Science Behind Spore

SimulationI was surprised to come across a program from the creators of Spore: ParticleMan simulates gravitational attraction between particles in a cloud. It's system was used to study such gravitational dynamics as orbits, nebula formation, star formation and particle streams from sources like pulsars and black holes.
My experience with the ParticleMan was clean. I saw the formation of stars and planets through the process of accretion - dusts and gas "coagulating" to form larger bodies. I also saw clues of binary star formations and interactions. Often, stars dance around tugging each other in circular orbits until some disturbances from planetesimals (or larger bodies) cause one of them to be hurled out of the Solar System at high speed (as is the fate of some unfortunate planetesimals that get in their way). Sometimes, though they merge together forming a bigger blob of mass.
What I can gleam from observing the simulation provided by ParticleMan is that proto-planets seem to battle it out for survival in the early stages of a Solar System's formation. In the chaotic melee, smaller clumps of rocks either get hurled out or get swallowed by bigger, more massive objects. The survivor planets are the ones that now occupy the stable orbits of a Solar System in equilibrium.
After a few minutes of observing, I was impressed with the light-weight program, considering the fact that it was just one of their many prototypes in the early stages of exploring the game's directions.
Stating the lack of science behind the game in my previous post about the Spore Creature Creator might have been premature, as there could be so much more to see in the actual Spore game to be launched in the next few months. I could be blown away when it finally goes out.
If game-makers deal with these kinds of Science, Gaming could be a great ally in teaching a great deal about the actual universe we live in.

July 3, 2008

Fetish: Magic Planet for my Bedroom

During my recent trip to the newly-renovated Liberty Science Center, a luminous sphere called The Global Microscope became my newest fetish. I later learned that it's called the "Magic Planet", a product from Global Imagination. The "Magic Planet" is indeed magical as it turned, tilted and rotated according to the presenter's whims. Using his wand-like remote control, the presenter provided a grand visual tour of various geologic features of Earth such as tectonic plates, earthquake zones, deep trenches and high areas on the surface of the planet.
Numerous data sets on various aspects of the earth's climate were also presented - such as a rundown of all the earthquakes and typhoons around the world - using animated graphics superimposed upon varying graphical-representations of the Earth's surface. Europa
The other interesting part of the presentation involved a grand tour of the Solar System, showing all the planets, notably Mars, Venus, Jupiter in crisp detail. Our moon was also shown, as well as Enceladus, and the whole enchilada - Io, Ganymede, and upon my request - Europa.
All this show was done while controlling the tilt and rotation of the globe, and pausing at certain axes to examine points of interest in greater detail. After seeing it all, my curiosity prompted me to investigate it's inner workings.
After examining it up close, I discovered that it's actually a semi-transparent "plastic" sphere with the projector housed inside the base. It's probably similar to how IMAX works (in terms of the projector-lens and dome), except that the computer-generated images being projected from inside the sphere shows through outside the dome's surface. In essence, it's actually a spherized 'computer monitor', obviously tailored to simulate spherical surfaces.
Clearly, this is a wonderful display tool. Perfect for visualizing yet-unseen exoplanets and super-earths, too. I'd love to have one of these in my bedroom, except that I was told it costs around $30,000. Oh well, perhaps I'll just build one someday, DIY-style. So much for my fetish.


July 1, 2008

Earth-like Worlds and the Rare Earth Hypothesis

Rare EarthI sincerely believe that the Earth is rare. I even dare say it is unique, just like how every human being is unique. Earth is truly one of a kind, and that is why I love it so much.
Now by saying that Earth is unique does not mean that there won't be other worlds like it. Thus there could be countless 'earth-like' worlds out there, but only some would have Life. And among those that are life-bearing, possibly only a fraction would be intelligent and sentient.
There is no debate in the argument of the Rare Earth hypothesis that the emergence of complex multicellular life on Earth required an improbable combination of astrophysical and geological events and circumstances. Other than that, it cannot have bearing on how common life is on other parts of the universe.
I appreciate the fact that the "Rare Earth Hypothesis" was aptly named - which simply means that the Earth is rare, which I rather consider the same as saying that diamonds are rare.
The Earth is precious and unique. There is no place like home.

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.

May 31, 2008

Search for Alien Planets (Documentary)

A documentary about man's Search for Alien Planets - Extrasolar planets.

May 30, 2008


Exoplanet ForumThe Third Annual Forum on Exoplanet Science by NASA is on its closing day. (My apologies; should've posted it much earlier; will do so next time) This year it focuses on seven measurement techniques: astrometry, direct imaging - optical coronagraphy, direct imaging - mid-IR interferometry, exozodiacal disks, radial velocity, transits, and microlensing.
The results of the Forum will be published in book form, as a record of the presentations and discussion, in a format that will be accessible to a broad range of scientists and helpful to science policy makers. The publication target date is fall 2008. This event is sponsored by the NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program, with organizational and logistics support provided by the Center for Exoplanet Science at JPL.

The Universe: Alien Planets (Documentary)

The Universe: Alien Planets

May 27, 2008

Exoplanetology and Science-Fiction

ExoplanetA nice post about Exoplanets from IO9, one of my favorite sci-fi blogs. It's great to have the Sci-Fi community taking a close watch on developments in Exoplanetology - the Art and Science of Exoplanets. And why not? Man simply cannot resist the call of other Worlds. Exoplanetology is a field that beckons the imagination, and Exoplanets appeals to Sci-Fi because they're far enough to stretch the imagination, but close enough for Science. If any object at all represents a kind of missing link between Science and Fiction, then i think it's The Exoplanet.

May 26, 2008

Exoplanet Visualization Tool (exoExplorer coming soon)

exoExplorerI eagerly await this forthcoming Exoplanet Visualization Tool called 'exoExplorer' being developed by the Planetary Biology Team. The software is set to be released in June 2008.
From the looks of it, the exoExplorer visual interface will depict the exoplanet's surface features and environmental appearance based on its known characteristics as inferred from the exoplanet data.
The interface will be highly interactive - almost like a game, and as such I foresee a kind of immersive 3D experience, and your avatar will be a spaceship or a rover.
Head over to their project page to find out more. June 2008 is just around the corner for its release. I'll keep you posted.

May 25, 2008

Congratulations NASA: Phoenix Mars Lander Team

The Phoenix Mars Lander has touched down on Martian regolith after successfully carrying out the entry, descent and landing (EDL) phase of the mission.

Phoenix Mission Website
Mars Foundation

Alien Planets

A documentary about the search for exoplanets.

May 24, 2008

Extremophiles increases the Possibility of Life Elsewhere

ExtremophileFinding life on extreme conditions on our own planet might gives us a better gauge as to how life might fare on other worlds. The record-breaking discovery of microbes 1.6 kilometers beneath the ocean floor is the latest clue. The microbes are an Archaean species of the heat-loving Pyrococcus which can thrive at temperatures of 100°C, a temperature which would destroy most living organisms.
If the whole universe were a laboratory for testing the resiliency of life, then the sheer number of exoplanets and their moons, which are far greater than the number of stars, would have provided a diverse landscape for life to flourish, thereby increasing the possibility of extrasolar life even more.

Link: Nature News

Exoplanet Update for May 2008

And I thought May 2008 was going to end without any exoplanet discovery.

Here's the latest stats and info on exoplanet discoveries for May 2008:
Three new exoplanets come from the COROT mission, and one from a team of independent planet-hunters.

The 4 new exoplanets are:
1) CoRoT-Exo-3 b
2) CoRoT-Exo-4 b
3) CoRoT-Exo-5 b
4) XO-5 b

They have now all been added into the Freebase Exoplanet Database

The team that discovered XO-5 b includes Bruce L. Gary. If you remember, he wrote the free eBook for Amateur Exoplanetologists. The team used photometric and spectroscopic Methods to detect XO-5 b. For more details, here is the paper they submitted to the
Astrophysical Journal, as viewed in PDF from Arxiv:

The COROT series of exoplanets was discovered by the french-led COROT mission.
COROT was launched atop the Soyuz from the Baikonour cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on December 2006. If you've watched Borat, you'll know where Kazakhstan is.
COROT is a CNES project with ESA participation. The other major partners in this mission are Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Germany and Spain.-

May 21, 2008


Gliese 876dAwesome rendition of a 'sunrise' on Gliese 876d. And because it's a sunrise on an exoplanet, I will coin a new word for it - Extrasolarise.
Many thanks to APOD for featuring this photo. And kudos to Inga Nielsen for a fantastic artwork.
I am enthralled by looking at pictures of these far-flung worlds. Is it because they cause my imagination to run wild between Science and Fiction? Exoplanets are real, yet they are far enough to stretch the imagination. The limit of the speed of light is what makes the mind's eye to be boundless.
The Art and Science that goes into creating stunning artworks like this is what prompted me to define Exoplanetology as The Art and Science of Exoplanets...

Photo Credit: Inga Nielsen

May 17, 2008

Not OK to Believe in Aliens...

Giordano BrunoI just came across this funny news headline: The Vatican says it's OK to believe in Aliens.
Of course its not OK to believe in aliens. Are you kidding?
'OK' is an understatement.
Think of what would have happened to someone who believed in the existence of other beings in another planet just like the earth, during Giordano Bruno's time.
The Roman Catholic Church has matured much since those kind of days. Let's hope the growth of reason continues to flourish.

The Vatican says it's OK to believe in Aliens
IO9: It's OK...

May 13, 2008

Planet Hunters (Documentary)

A documentary about the search for extrasolar planets and about the people who dedicated their lives to hunt for exoplanets.

May 11, 2008

Flood of Marvelous new Exoplanets to begin this Fall 2008

MARVELSWhat a nice acronym for a project that will bring us marvelous new worlds to thinker with. This coming fall, astronomers will start a massive search for new planets by observing about 11,000 nearby stars over 6 years. This number dwarfs the roughly 3,000 stars that astronomers have searched to date for the presence of planets. Scientists estimate that the NASA-funded project, called MARVELS (Multi-object Apache Point Observatory Radial Velocity Exoplanet Large-area Survey), will find at least 150 new planets—perhaps many more.
MARVELS will do much more than just catalogue a few hundred more planets. By surveying the Jupiter-like planets around such a large number of stars, MARVELS aims to give astronomers the data they need to test competing theories for how planetary systems form and evolve.
To look at so many stars, MARVELS will use a telescope that can separately image 60 stars at a time, and this number will eventually be increased to 120 stars. The telescope, which will be housed at the Apache Point Observatory in the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico, has a 2.5 meter primary mirror and a wide field of view that covers 7 square degrees of the sky—an area that would appear 35 times larger than the Moon.
The MARVELS approach hinges upon the pattern that whenever a large jupiter-like planet is present, smaller terrestrial planets may also be there. The set of data that MARVELS will discover will definitely help in sorting out which stars are potential targets for further research. Plus, it will be a big boon to verify theories of planetary formation.
And if everything proceeds as planned, it will verify the forecast made on this blog last February that a deluge of exoplanets will be discovered in 2008.

Sloan Digital Sky Survey III
Mission Hopes to Find New Planets by the Dozen

May 6, 2008

ExoGaia Hypothesis

By now you must be wondering why I have added a very curious parameter to the definition of Exoplanetology, which is "the search for life on other worlds". What does "Life" have to do with Exoplanets? Should we just let Exoplanetology simply be the study of Exoplanets?
My short answer is simply because Life is fun! But we may in fact leave it plain and simple as the pure science of exoplanets. But I'm afraid that definition will be temporary. In due time, life will ultimately be detected on other worlds. And those who are familiar with James Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis knows that a planet is never the same once Life takes hold of it. It becomes a planet-life symbiosis. The planet becomes a living organism.
Life ultimately alters the make-up of planets, while on the other hand the undulations of the surface of the planet (earthquakes, volcanic activities, tectonics, etc) affects the course of life's evolution. The metabolisms of life changes the "atmosphere" of planets, vise-versa and so on. For example, the planktons, green algae or microscopic plants have been responsible for the copious amounts of Oxygen on Earth's atmosphere, where previously - some few millions of years ago, there was Methane and other gases instead. Now humans are about to replace it with CO2!
So, in the study of exoplanets, the parameter of life is inherently entwined. As a matter of fact, in trying to understand the gases in an exoplanet's atmosphere, an inference to the presence of life is almost always taken into account as a possible catalyst.
Hence, there is no other way but to add "the search for Life" to Exoplanetology at this point. And this is also to inspire all the those who undertake the task of answering one of man's deepest questions, "Are We Alone?". So for now, while we're still searching, we can leave it at that. (Besides, I think its time for interdisciplinary collaborations between related sciences: Isnt it fun to bring aspects of Astrobiology, Astronomy, Cosmology and even Climatology together into Exoplanetology?)
But once we finally discover exoplanetary life, I will immediately change the definition of Exoplanetology to "The Art and Science of Exoplanets and Life on Other Worlds."
And by the way, if Gaia is to Earth, then could ExoGaia be for Exoplanets?

May 5, 2008

Look Ma, No Lens! Just a Sheet of Metal for Planet-hunting!

Fresnel ImagerA proposed telescope would focus light primarily with a patterned sheet of metal rather than a large mirror or lens. The telescope would have amazingly sharp vision and could spot Earth-size planets around other stars.
The technique takes advantage of light's diffraction, which enables light to be focused into an image simply by passing it through a certain pattern of holes carved in an opaque sheet. Such patterned sheets have long been used for focusing laser beams, but have so far not been used for astronomy, much more for Exoplanetology. These patterned metal plates are called Fresnel zone plates, after the French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel, who studied diffraction in the 1800s.
Because it relies on a foil sheet rather than a massive mirror, it could be much more lightweight, and therefore less expensive to launch, than a traditional telescope.
A Fresnel imager with a sheet of a given size has vision just as sharp as a traditional telescope with a mirror of the same size, though it collects just 10% or so of the light. It can also observe in the ultraviolet and infrared, in addition to visible light.
The imager can take very detailed images with high contrast, which is great for being able to see a very faint object in the close vicinity of a bright one, making it perfect for obtaining images of exoplanetary systems. Such images have so far been very difficult to make because exoplanets are so faint they get lost in their host stars' glare.
A 30-metre Fresnel imager would be powerful enough to see Earth-sized planets within 30 light years of Earth, and measure the planets' light spectrum to look for signs of life, such as atmospheric oxygen.
Now don't get excited yet because there still a lot of challenges for this approach, such as how to unfurl the plate during deployment in space. Oh and by the way, the fresnel plate may still require a secondary mirror called a fresnel lens to correct some errors, har har. The blog title was just a trick!


May 2, 2008

Dust Bunnies and Planets

Dust bunnies are probably the best metaphor when trying to understand how planets form. (Although stars form much in the same way, its rare and difficult to see.)
It's simply a property of matter to coalesce or aggregate, specially when in a vortex with a proper mix of chaos. Astrophysicists have recently captured images of a "dust bunny" in the process of becoming a planet. The star is AB Aurigae, and here is the link for more details about the evidence. The team who captured this image used the technique caled coronagraphy, which blocks out the brightest light emitted by the star to permit dimmer objects nearby to be seen. Another technique is polarimetry, which filters out the starlight with incredible precision.

April 30, 2008

2009: International Year of Astronomy

Fantastic Trailer for the International Year of Astronomy 2009. I got goosebumps all over me!

April 27, 2008

Exoplanetology Entwined

I received an invitation to try out this new "Semantic Social Utility" called Twine and I decided to give it a spin. Of course, I planted the seeds of Exoplanetology in there. You may find the topic of Exoplanetology "en-twined" via this URL: Although right now, the exoplanet topic there is still lonely, my experience with Twine as a whole has been totally stellar, and I found it quite addictive. At the moment, Twine is open only for invitations, but I can see it's awesome potential. I think Semantic Applications would be a great tool for Science and Research. Science2.0 is coming, I heard. Let's see how it fares for Exoplanet Research.

April 24, 2008

Free eBook for Amateur Exoplanetologists

Light Curve
Light curve of XO-1 made in 2006 by Bruce L. Gary
For the aspiring Amateur Exoplanetologists, this book is for you. Its called Exoplanet Observing For Amateurs. The bad news is that it's out of print (the author, Bruce L. Gary says so himself). The good news is that it's an eBook, and so can be printed on demand! Bruce has been so generous as to provide this awesome resource for Exoplanet enthusiasts.
However, there is one caveat. If you think you aren't ready yet for this book, then do a quick read on Differential Photometry. Apparently, it's the litmus test to know whether you are ready to tackle Amateur Exoplanetology using this book. Go get yourself ready for the planet-hunt!

Bruce L. Gary's Website
eBook (PDF): Exoplanet Observing For Amateurs

April 22, 2008

Exoplanetary Plants

Photo Credit: Alien Plant by Conradh on Flickr.

We have often set our imaginations on discovering animal-like creatures on other worlds. Yet the first forms of life that we might likely find are alien plants. It makes sense. Plants definitely have to come first as food for more advanced creatures. They are after all, at the base of the food chain. So they must be pretty abundant.
Astrobiologists are now investigating the possible forms and properties of exoplanetary plants based on the myriad of combinations of exoplanets and their parent star's properties. In fact, it's the parent star that may have the most effect on the look-and-feel of flora on other worlds, because plants depend mostly on light, which depend on what type of star their 'Sun' is.
For example, a Red Dwarf would be so feeble that the plant life would have to be dark to absorb as much light as possible. They may also have to grow large leaves to cover as much area for collecting more light. On the other hand, a hotter-than-usual exoplanet close to it's parent star might have vegetation that is light-colored to reflect most of the light. It might even be transparent to avoid getting fried. These and all other 'alien plant' characteristics are fun to imagine by exploring the different configurations of exoplanetary systems.

Other Links:
The Color of Plants on Other Worlds

April 20, 2008

Other Platforms of Life

Imaginary but possible lifeforms on a jupiter-like planet. Photo from page 42 of Carl Sagan's Cosmos.
A post at io9 mentions the possibility of life aside from the usual carbon-based or water-based type.
I'm reminded of the musings and calculations of the late Carl Sagan (with his colleague E. E. Salpeter) regarding the form of life that may arise from a Jupiter-like planet. They would look like gigantic Jellyfish basked in gasses (such as ammonia and methane) that may be poisonous to us, but is the basis of their very life.
Because life that happens to sprout in a certain environment thrives off the available "resources" that happen to be there. We've seen it in extremophiles on our very own planet. It may very well be the case elsewhere.
With the multitude of combinations of different properties of stars and exoplanets (such as mass, temperature, chemical make-up) the possibilities and variety of life across the universe might be endless and may be totally anything we could ever imagine.

April 6, 2008

Exoplanetology Trends, Statistics, Charts and Graphs

Monthly ExoplanetsTotal Exoplanets (2008)Total Exoplanets vs. New Exoplanets (per month)I played around with Trendrr and the 3 graphs you see are the new Exoplanets discovered per month for 2008, Total new exoplanets in 2008, and a mashup of the previous two charts.
Trendrr is a new site that allows users to manipulate a growing number of publicly available data sets. Users can also input custom data programmatically or by hand. Once Trendrr is tracking your data, it can then be mashed up into comparison graphs, as what is evident in the 3rd graph. With that kind of flexibility coupled with my curiosity, I might try to input some more historical data from the Exoplanet Catalogues and then perhaps build another mash-up of how media and the masses (blogosphere) respond to new discoveries in Exoplanetology. Or maybe I might build a widget out of it since Trendrr can export data in JSON format. So with the synthesis of Science, Web2.0 and Media the possibilities are endless, and literally out of this world!!!