Dr. Seager explains how she and other astronomers are looking for extraterrestrial life. We discuss the Drake and Seager equations. We also talk about how astronomers might be able to detect life by measuring chemicals in distant planet atmospheres.
Using a model, MIT astrophysicist Sara Seager demonstrates Starshade, under development at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California. Deployed in space, the device, more than 100 feet in diameter, would block the light from a star. A space telescope would capture an image of a planet when it’s between Starshade’s petals, seeking evidence that life may exist on the planet.
(PHOTOGRAPH BY SPENCER LOWELL / NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC)
Dr. Matthew Payne talks about his exoplanet research, which involves looking for periodic dimming in stars. We discuss the Kepler and TESS space telescopes, and he explains why he's so interested in measuring the masses of exoplanets.
Dr. Jessie Christiansen returns to the show to talk about newly discovered exoplanets! She explains why this planetary system was devilishly difficult to observe with ground-based telescopes, and how one of the planets poses a puzzle.
Dr. Tiffany Meshkat describes direct imaging of exoplanets, which astronomers have used to discover enormous, young planets. She also talks about WFIRST, a mission under development that would be able to find and characterize exoplanets.
Dr. Meshkat mentions star HR 8799, read more about it here!
Dr David Ciardi talks about Vega, a bright star that’s “been a part of human lore forever.” Dr. Ciardi and his colleagues discovered that Vega has a nearby ring of dust, implying the presence of planets. He also describes an encounter with a giant inflatable bumblebee at Palomar Observatory.
Marta Bryan shares her new results on exoplanets! She explains how she tested a theory of hot jupiter formation, and how she figured out that planet rotation rates are likely set early on in the planet’s lifetime.
Dr Rahul Patel describes his search for undiscovered disks of dust around other stars. He explains how looking for fainter and fainter debris disks may bring us closer to discovering a planetary system similar to our own.
Dr. Kevin Schlaufman tells us about exoplanets that orbit around their stars in an unusual manner. He also explains what his research says about the Earth’s fate when our sun dies, billions of years from now.
Image credit: Artist’s conception of exoplanet Kepler-22b. NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech
Dr Christiansen stops by the show to talk about exoplanets and the Kepler Space Telescope. We share an Australian beverage and she explains how astronomers look for exoplanets, and how the discovery of “hot Jupiters” was a huge surprise to astronomers.
Dr. Katherine Kretke investigates how planets are formed with computer models. Her new research had a surprising result— that pebbles play a key role in forming terrestrial planets like Earth and Mars. Image: artist's conception of planetary formation (NASA/JPL-Caltech).