Mankind has been searching the night sky for millennia, pondering the nature of the universe. With technological developments over the last few years, scientists now know much more about the universe and the existence of other Earth-like planets.
Sharing the knowledge behind the latest techniques for remote sensing of exoplanets, or planets that orbit a different star, is the idea behind this week’s Winter School on Remote Sensing of Exoplanets. The event runs Thursday and Friday and more information is available on the Winter School schedule.
Dr. Adriana Predoi-Cross, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, is also the research co-ordinator for the NSERC CREATE AMETHYST program that is sponsoring the event, along with the University of Lethbridge and Tecterra.
“I thought it would be very instructive for the students to find out about how the exploration of exoplanets and the characterization of their atmospheres has evolved in the past decade,” she says. “I hope that by the end of this Winter School, the students will not only have an overview of the new research trends but may also get interested in pursuing aspects of this research.”
Students, the majority of them graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, will learn about the methods being used to search for and detect exoplanets. One of the speakers is the U of L’s Dr. Locke Spencer, who will talk about the key science and technology developments needed for the next generation of astrophysics experiments.
“Some of the key questions in modern astrophysics, including areas such as star and planet formation, are waiting on improved observations in the far-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum to allow our scientific understanding to advance,” says Spencer. “This requires the integration and development of a variety of technologies and observation techniques involving contributions from many research groups across the globe."
NASA’s Kepler mission was launched in 2009 with the express purpose of searching for Earth-like exoplanets. After 16 months of observation, scientists had about 2,300 planet candidates.
“Almost 1,700 of these have been confirmed as exoplanets. Because of their recent discovery, there’s a flurry of scientific activity around them, trying to explore the composition, the photo-chemistry and the evolution of these extra solar planets. There are different methods that are used to observe these extra solar planets and some of the lecturers will be focused on discussing the different techniques to investigate exoplanets,” says Predoi-Cross.
The search for other habitable planets is definitely on, although progress may not be as fast as some would like. Technological developments have enabled the collection of vast amounts of data, such as their size, orbit and the possible composition of their atmospheres, that needs further analysis.
“Some of the exoplanets that have been discovered are in what scientists call the habitable zone where it’s possible to have liquid water on the surface. There is one planet called Kepler 22B that is a potential for the habitable zone,” she says.
Media are invited to schedule an interview on Wednesday, Dec. 3 with Dr. Ingo Waldmann, an astrophysicist from University College London in the United Kingdom and one of the speakers at the Winter School, to talk about the search for habitable planets.