Observational Astronomy

Optics tricks to image and study habitable exoplanets

exoplanetsDirectly imaging exoplanets is both scientifically exciting but notoriously challenging. Scientifically, obtaining images of rocky planets in the habitable zones of stars is key to finding if and how life developed outside the solar system.

Star Formation through Radio Eyes: Probing Magnetic Fields with CARMA

carma telescopeHow do stars form?  How can we use radio waves to probe the origins of stars within their cold, dusty natal clouds?  And how do magnetic fields affect the star-formation process?  Come and find out how I use CARMA, a millimeter-wave radio telescope in the Eastern Sierras, to find answers to these questions.  I will begin by discussing the basics of radio astronomy, radio telescopes, and star formation.

Exploring the Dark Side of the Universe

In this talk Dr. Fassnacht will show how the powerful combination of sensitive, high-resolution imaging with gravitational lensing can provide direct observational tests of galaxy formation scenarios under the cold dark matter paradigm as well as interesting constraints on cosmology. In particular, he will discuss the following two subjects. (1) Placing constraints on the Hubble Constant, curvature, and the dark energy equation of state parameter that are independent of and complementary to those obtained by other observational probes.

Kepler Mission: Past, Present, and Future (Video)

Dr. Bill Borucki is the principal investigator and head of the Kepler Mission to find 'exoplanets' around other stars.

Coronal heating and acceleration and NASA's Solar Probe Plus mission

The thermodynamic temperature of the Sun's atmosphere rises from ~6000K at the visible surface to millions of degrees in its outer atmosphere, the corona. This hot coronal plasma then expands supersonically to become the solar wind; this wind acceleration process is ongoing to very high altitudes (~10 solar radii) There is no sufficient thermal energy source for this heating and expansion, however remote sensing measurements of the coronal magnetic field suggest that the magnetic energy density is more than enough.

Space Buckyballs

Fullerenes are a class of large and remarkably stable carbonaceous molecules in the shape of a hollow sphere or ellipsoid; the best known member of the class is the archetypical “buckminsterfullerene” C60 that resembles a soccer ball (and is therefore often called “buckyball”). Dr. Cami and colleagues have recently discovered the unmistakable spectral signatures of the fullerene species C60 and C70 in Spitzer observations of a young planetary nebula, and these are now the largest molecules known to exist in space.

Jupiter Picture of the Day

The rich history of time-domain Jupiter data is of great value because it provides a whole new angle of attack, distinct from spatial-domain (imaging) data or from spectral-domain data. Time-domain Jupiter data provides a unique way to learn more about processes such as heat transport, atmospheric structure and evolution, composition, the formation of clouds and hazes, impact processes, and impactor populations. Dr.

The Search for Habitable Exoplanets in the Kepler Era and Beyond

For centuries people have wondered, “Are we alone?” With hundreds of planets now known to orbit other stars, we are finally able to begin answering the ancient questions, "Do other Earths exist? Are they common? Do any have signs of life? NASA's Kepler space telescope will soon tell us the statistical numbers of Earth-size planets orbiting sun-size stars. Beyond Kepler is the search for potentially habitable worlds around nearby, sun-like stars.

Detecting Circumbinary Planets

We discuss several techniques for the detection of circumbinary planets (CBP, planets that circle two stars at once). This involves detection by transits (which in the case of CBP produce a quasi-periodic signal), eclipsing binary (EB) timing, dynamical timing of EBs, and a new detection technique called the "eclipse echo" EE method. With all these acronyms the detection of CBP around EBs with the EE method should make NASA happy. : )

The oxygen isotopic composition of the Sun: implications for solar nebula chemistry

We have measured the oxygen isotopic composition of the solar wind, captured and returned to Earth by NASA's Genesis mission. The data demonstrate that the Earth, Moon, Mars, and bulk meteorites are depleted in 16O by ~7% relative to the bulk solar system in a non-mass-dependent manner. Gas phase photochemistry, occurring either in the solar nebula or in its progenitor molecular cloud, is most likely responsible for changing the isotopic composition of planetary materials in the inner solar system prior to planetesimal accretion.

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