Cosmic Diary Marchis

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How to explain the inconceivable

January 10, 2016

I am often asked to comment on what happened in Paris last December since I have both French and American citizenships and I live in the US. Like a lot of my compatriotes, it has been difficult to watch those events unfold on Friday afternoon December 13 (I was working at George Mason University in DC ). Since then, he has been also impossible to rationalize what really happened and to give a sense on those horrific events. Today I listened to “Geopolitique”, a short program aired on France Inter which described events and their consequences in the geopolitical scale. Bernard Guetta summarized very well what are my thoughts on the Paris events and its consequences, so I decided to share with you  an English translation which has been freely adapted. The French version   “Comment expliquer l’inconcevable” is available on the France Inter web site.

PeaceForParis by the artist Jean Jullien

The perpetrators of the most recent murders have no excuse whatsoever, especially not one that seeks to blame the societies they live in. Nor, for that matter, did Mohamed Merah before them, or the killers of November 13, or the killers of January 7 in Paris. They were certainly not mentally ill and they certainly were responsible for their actions — and cannot claim that the challenges of integrating into a new society make them the bloodthirsty monsters they became.

In order to identify racism, racial profiling or immigrant ghettos as the cause of such crimes, we must first erase from our minds the fact that these realities do not make a killer out of everyone — or even most — of people who suffer from them on a daily basis. So how is it that men who grew up in France and were not that different from their classmates joined fifteen hundred others who were poisoned by jihadist recruiters and joined the Daesh?

There is certainly no single explanation for why that happened, but with the death of fascism, communism and the Guevarists maquis in Latin America, jihadism is the last and only ideology left standing with a global appeal. Nowhere else in the Middle East one can find another cause with its power and grip on people, nor one as messianic, nor one that asks as much blind obedience to a common cause and is also so universally condemned – in short, one infinitely alluring to men without judgment who want, above all, to give meaning to their lives by defying, without exception, all established orders.

For these men, becoming a jihadist means entering a new existence in which they can identify with the struggles of a region they do not understand and peoples and cultures they do not know, and immerse themselves in the belief that that they are changing the world by iron and fire.

As was so rightly pointed out Olivier Roy, they do not embody a radicalization of Islam but the Islamization of radicalization, a radicalism that every generation or so eventually succumbs to. But this one is uniquely terrifying because once one is proclaimed a soldier of God, once one is on a divine mission, everything is permitted, absolutely everything, without taboo or restrictions or limits.

Above all, the fate of these miserable cretins should lead us to ask ourselves about the dangers we run by no longer believing in anything. It is great to have finally rejected failed ideologies and their illusions and nostrums. But in their place, we have taken to laughing at everything, ridiculing everything, and renouncing collective ambition in order to cultivate individualism and enjoy absolute freedoms. We have chosen an acquired eternal over fighting injustice and the status quo — and by doing this, we facilitate the work of the propagandists of jihad.

From the idiocies of M. Trump to those of M. Putin, from one form of the new European extreme right to another, forces significantly closer to the typical voter than jihadists are working to make nationalism, isolationism and rejection of others our collective belief and unifying ideals. Surely there is a better route than our own jihad. The fight for progress and the Enlightenment never ended, and we must now pick up that banner anew and resume the fight — because on the outcome of this struggle depends everything rational, compassionate people value and hold dear.

AGU 2015 session: Direct Imaging of Habitable Exoplanets: Progress and Future

December 15, 2015

Artist concept of the planetary system Kepler 62. Image credit: Danielle Futselaar – SETI Institute

Join us tomorrow at the AGU Fall Meeting for a session on direct imaging of habitable exoplanets that I organized with my colleagues Ramses Ramirez from Cornell University and David Black.

This session consists in a discussion on the potential of new and future facilities and modeling efforts designed to detect, image and characterize habitable exoplanets, studying their formation, evolution and also the existence of possible biospheres. Topics to be covered in this session include signs of exoplanet habitability and global biosignatures that can be sought with upcoming instrumentation; instrument requirements and technologies to detect these markers; strategies for target selection and prioritization; and impacts of planetary system properties, ground-based and space telescope architectures, and impacts of instrument capabilities on the yield of potentially inhabited exoplanets.

We have an oral session with 5 talks including  two invited talks and a poster session 7 abstracts. Below a list.

We look forward to seeing you at the session this morning and this afternoon.

P32B: Direct Imaging of Habitable Exoplanets: Progress and Future I
Wednesday, 16 December 2015 11:20am – 12:20pm Moscone West – 2012

11:20 Characterizing Pale Blue Dots Around FGKM Stars
Sarah Rugheimer, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, United Kingdom; Simons Foundation, Collaboration on the Origins of Life, New York, NY, United States, Lisa Kaltenegger, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, United States, Dimitar D. Sasselov, Harvard University, Astronomy, Cambridge, MA, United States and Antigona Segura, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Instituto de Ciencias Nucleares, Mexico City, Mexico

11:32 Why Alpha Centauri is a Particularly Good Target for Direct Imaging of Exoplanets.
Ruslan Belikov1, Eduardo Bendek1, Sandrine Thomas2, Jared Males3 and ACESat proposal team, (1)NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, United States, (2)LSST, Tucson, United States, (3)University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, United States

11:44 Mapping the Region in the Nearest Star System to Search for Habitable Planets
Jack J Lissauer and Billy Quarles, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, United States

11:56 Characterizing Exoplanets with 2-meter Class Space-based Coronagraphs
Tyler D Robinson, University of California Santa Cruz, Astronomy and Astrophysics, Santa Cruz, CA, United States, Mark S Marley, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, United States and Karl R Stapelfeldt, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, United States

12:08 Global Surface Photosynthetic Biosignatures Prior to the Rise of Oxygen
Mary Nichole Parenteau, SETI Institute Mountain View, Mountain View, CA, United States, Nancy Y Kiang, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, NY, United States, Robert E. Blankenship, Washington University in St Louis, Departments of Biology and Chemistry, St. Louis, MO, United States, Esther Sanromá, Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, Tenerife, Spain, Enric Palle Bago, Universidad de La Laguna, Departamento de Astrofísica, La Laguna, Spain, Tori M Hoehler, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, United States, Beverly K. Pierson, University of Puget Sound, Biology Department, Tacoma, WA, United States and Victoria Suzanne Meadows, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, United States

 

P33B: Direct Imaging of Habitable Exoplanets: Progress and Future II Posters
Wednesday, 16 December 2015 13:40 – 18:00
Moscone South – Poster Hall

Correlated PSF Subtraction Using an Archive
Benjamin Gerard1 and Marois Christian1,2, (1)University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada, (2)National Research Council, Herzberg, Victoria, BC, Canada

Light curves, Spherical and Bond albedos of Jupiter, Saturn, and exoplanets.
Ulyana Dyudina, Caltech, Pasadena, CA, United States

Surface Temperatures of Exoplanets
Marie Weisfeiler1, Donald L Turcotte1 and Louise H Kellogg2, (1)University of California Davis, Davis, CA, United States, (2)University of California – Davis, Davis, CA, United States

A Statistical Model for Determining the Probability of Observing Exoplanetary Radio Emissions
Rodolfo Garcia1, Mary Knapp1, Daniel Winterhalter2 and Walid Majid3, (1)Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, United States, (2)NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, United States, (3)Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, United States

Constraining Methane Abundance and Cloud Properties from the Reflected Light Spectra of Directly Imaged Exoplanets
Roxana Lupu, Bay Area Environmental Research Institute Moffett Field, Moffett Field, CA, United States, Mark S Marley, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, United States and Nikole K Lewis, Massachusetts Inst of Tech, Cambridge, MA, United States

Systematic Search of the Nearest Stars for Exoplanetary Radio Emission: Preliminary Results from LOFAR
Daniel Winterhalter, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, United States and Mary Knapp, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, United States

A Space Mission Concept to Directly Image the Habitable Zone of Alpha Centauri
Eduardo Bendek1, Ruslan Belikov1, Jared Males2, Sandrine Thomas1 and Julien Lozi3, (1)NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, United States, (2)University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, United States, (3)NAOJ National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, Subaru Telescope, hilo, HI, United States

Thoughts on GPI

October 29, 2015

In a major breakthrough for exoplanet discovery and exploration, the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) is proving to be one of most powerful and effective instruments ever invented for directly imaging planets in orbit around other stars.

An artistic conception of the Jupiter-like exoplanet, 51 Eri b, seen in the near-infrared light that shows the hot layers deep in its atmosphere glowing through clouds. Because of its young age, this young cousin of our own Jupiter is still hot and carries information on the way it was formed 20 million years ago.
credits: Danielle Futselaar & Franck Marchis, SETI Institute

The behind-the-scenes story of this project sheds light on the complexities and challenges of designing and building a truly game-changing instrument. We started work more than thirteen years ago under the leadership of Bruce Macintosh and the auspices of the Center for Adaptive Optics. At that time, a number of scientists, most from California and Canada, met to discuss building a groundbreaking adaptive optics (AO) system powerful enough to confront — and overcome — the challenging of directly collecting photons from young Jupiter-like exoplanets. The discovery of 51 Eri b, which was announced last August, is the culmination of that effort. 

Exoplanet β Pic b orbiting β Pictoris from Dunlap Institute on Vimeo.

Today, GPI is fully operational and in the process of observing ~600 bright and nearby stars as part of an 900h-survey to search for exoplanets and their circumstellar disks. There’s no way to predict how many we will find, but the survey has already generated interesting and groundbreaking data — allowing scientists, for example, to study exoplanet Beta Pictoris b. The little white dot moving in the video above is the faint glow of this young and warm exoplanet, which is 60 light years away and was observed nine times by GPI between November 2013 and April 2015. Collecting an image of this planet and its star allows us to infer the orbit and composition of the planet, and measure its temperature. In time, GPI and its successor instruments will allow us to do far more.

Images like these make us confident that another revolution in human understanding of the cosmos has begun. Twentieth-century astronomers fundamentally changed our understanding of the universe and our place in it when they mapped asteroids, comets and satellites in our solar system and beyond. Their twenty-first century counterparts have begun work on what may well be an even greater revolution by expanding our knowledge of the Milky Way and mapping far more distant objects such as stars and exoplanets. 

We’ve just begun work on this difficult but revolutionary task. GPI and the next generation of ground- and space-based telescopes equipped with advanced AO technology are the key to finding earth-like exoworlds, including ones that other forms of life may call home.

Clear skies,

Franck M