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