SETI Institute Weekly Colloquium

Microsoft mapAt the Microsoft Campus in Mountain view

1065 La Avenida St, Mountain View CA 
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FREE and open to the public. Tuesdays, noon to 1pm

Tuesday, February 21 2017 - 12:00 pm, PST

Origins of Structure in Planetary Systems

Ruth Murray-Clay
UC Santa Cruz

Observations confirm that planet formation is a ubiquitous process that produces a diversity of planetary systems. However, a class of solar system analogs has yet to be identified among the thousands of currently known planets and candidates, the overwhelming majority of which are more easily detectable than direct counterparts of the Sun's worlds. To understand whether our solar system’s history was unusual and, more generally, to properly characterize the galactic population of extrasolar planets, we must identify how differences in formation environment translate into different planetary system architectures. In this talk, Dr. Murray-Clay will consider our solar system in the context of theoretical advances in planet formation driven by the study of extrasolar planets. Along the way, she will discuss several examples of physical processes operating at different stages of planet formation that imprint observable structures on the dynamical and compositional demographics of planetary systems.


Tuesday, March 07 2017 - 12:00 pm, PST

Search for extrasolar moons and rings using transit observations

Paul Kalas
UC Berkeley



Tuesday, March 14 2017 - 12:00 pm, PDT

A Journey to Alpha Centauri

Christian Marois
Univ. of Victoria

The Alpha Centauri star system is ideal to search for habitable planets by various observing techniques due to its proximity and wide range of stellar masses. Following the recent discovery of an Earth-size planet candidate located inside the Proxima Centauri habitable zone, Dr. Marois will discuss this remarkable discovery and the planet’s potential to find life. He will also present our current instrument project for the Gemini South observatory, TIKI, to discover similar planets around the two Sun-like pair located 15,000 AU from Proxima Centauri. The Alpha Centauri system is the prime target of the Breakthrough Starshot program, a project to send small quarter-size probes to take resolve images of these new worlds, and to prepare for Humanity’s first step into a new star system.

Dr Marois completed his Ph.D. at the Université de Montréal in 2004. The main topic of his thesis work was to understand the limits in exoplanet imaging and to design innovating observing strategies. After his thesis, he did postdoctoral researches at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Univ. of California Berkeley and NRC. In 2008, while at NRC, he led the team that took the first image of another planetary system (HR 8799) using the Keck and Gemini telescopes. He is currently pursuing his research at the NRC Herzberg where he is part of the Gemini Planet Imager campaign, and leading the development of instruments for imaging Earth-like planets at Gemini South and at the TMT.


Tuesday, March 21 2017 - 12:00 pm, PDT

NASA's search for habitable planets and life beyond the solar system

Gary H. Blackwood
NASA Exoplanet Exploration Program, JPL

Dr. Gary H. Blackwood earned his BS, MS and PHD in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from MIT. He has been an employee at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA since 1988 and has worked on technology development for precision astronomical instruments and astrophysics missions including the Hubble Wide/Field Planetary Camera-2, the StarLight formation-flying interferometer, the Space Interferometry Mission and the Terrestrial Planet Finder. Since 2012 he has served as the Program Manager for the NASA Exoplanet Exploration Program, managed by JPL for the Astrophysics Division of the NASA Science Mission Directorate.


Tuesday, March 28 2017 - 12:00 pm, PDT

Latest Exoplanet Results from NASA's Kepler/K2 Mission

Ian Crossfield
UC Santa Cruz

The all-sky TESS mission will soon revolutionize our view of planets transiting the nearest, brightest stars to the Sun, just as the four-year survey by NASA's Kepler mission transformed our understanding of exoplanet demographics. Using the repurposed Kepler spacecraft, the ongoing K2 mission provides a natural transition from Kepler to TESS in terms of sky coverage, survey duration, and intensity of ground-based follow-up observations. For the past three years I have led a large, multi-institutional team to discover, follow up, validate, and characterize hundreds of new candidates and planets using data from K2. I will highlight some of our key results from the first two years of K2 data, and will conclude with a discussion of the path forward to future exoplanet discovery and characterization.