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