AAS day two

AAS day two

Jan 19 2010 | comment(s)

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

There are several ways to spot an exoplanet.  The two most common are the radial velocity and transit techniques.  Radial velocity measurements detect changes in the star’s light due to its back-and-forth motion in response to its planet’s gravitational tug.  RV observations and astrometry—similar idea, but you can actually see the star move, not just detect the motion in its light spectrum—have brought us the bulk of exoplanet discoveries (nearly 400) and provide a minimum mass estimate for the planet. 
You can (and should) listen to my first ever podcast, at "365 Days of Astronomy", which is either about a) why we put telescopes on mountains and in space or b) why science in Antarctica rocks!  From the 365DOA site:
Ever wonder why astronomers loft telescopes higher and higher, to mountains and via balloons and satellites? Astrophysicist Sandy Antunes explains, and in the process gets an accidental lesson from a Linda Banish, a rock-climbing colleague, on why Antarctica is the best place in the world for science.
I am not one for New Year's resolutions.  January 1st does not particularly stand out to me, frankly.  This year, however, I felt the need to turn over a new leaf.  And so, amongst the various changes I wish to undertake in my semi-professional life, I have decided to actually give regular attention to this blog.  (No promises for thesis deadline weeks, however.)
Where are we?  Cosmically, I mean.  We have barely made steps to get to the edge of our solar system, via Voyager 1 and 2.  It's ironic that we can see back 13 billion years using telescopes, but we have little idea of what 'stuff' is out there-- matter, dark matter, energy.  Or even what is just outside our local solar system.
I just posted a tweet storm from this week's 215th AAS Conference.  The specific session was a workshop on "Astronomy Employment: Past and Future".  The panelists were Beryl Benderly (Science Careers journalist), Rachel Ivie (AIP), Jim Ulvestad (NRAO), and Steve Beckwith (Univ. of CA), and their opinions were both frank and highly welcome at dispelling illusions about the ivory tower of academia.

This is the cold, hard reality of professional astronomy, presented from the inside.  Here are the quotes and tweets from the workshop.

"More people are beign qualified as scientists than can be employed" (B. Benderly) #aas215
 Researchers at the American Museum of Natural History and the University of Cambridge have developed models they say explain how earth survived its birth. Presenting their findings at the 2010 meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C., the team suggests that variations in temperature can lead to regions of outward and inward migration that safely trap planets on orbits. When the protoplanetary disk begins to dissipate, planets are left behind, safe from impact with their parent star.
Despite astronomers hopes, the rocky planet CoRoT-7 b that was discovered circling a star some 480 light years from Earth last October is likely a forbidding place that doesn't harbor life. Upon its discovery, experts said that was because the planet is so close to its star that
temperatures might be above 4,000 degrees F (2,200 C) on the surface lit by its star and as low as minus 350 F (minus 210 C) on its dark side.
What are the best new astronomy books?  I just got asked this question, and thought I'd hit up all you Bloggies for your opinions.  I'll also make sure to check with publishers at the ongoing 215th AAS Meeting to get their recommendations, and post updates as they arrive.

My recommendations so far would be:

1) Laika, by Nick Abadzis (2007)
Shown in an extremely broad range of color and showcasing more than twelve billion years of cosmic history, Hubble's recent image is a full-glory cosmic renaissance of the history of the Universe. This image provides a record of the Universe's most exciting formative years, from the birth of stars in the early Universe all the way through the materialization of the Milky Way.
Using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have broken the distance limit for galaxies by uncovering a primordial population of never-before-seen ultra-blue galaxies. At 13 billion years old, they formed approximately 600 to 800 million years after the Big Bang.

Researchers say these newly found objects are crucial to understanding the evolutionary link between the birth of the first stars, the formation of the first galaxies, and the sequence of evolutionary events that resulted in the assembly of our Milky Way and the other "mature" elliptical and majestic spiral galaxies in today's universe.