Exoplanets: Planets of Other Stars – June 2015

Only since 1991 have astronomers known that stars (other than the Sun) do have planets. Discoveries are coming rapidly: over 1,000 exoplanets are now known (like Kepler 286f in the above artist’s rendition). Tens of thousands may be found in the next decade. The Solar System is now thought to be atypical, since Jupiter-mass planets are unexpectedly rare. Only 3% of known planetary systems resemble the Solar System, with small, rocky planets like Earth in their habitable zones, and Jupiter-mass planets farther out. Many exoplanets are unlike any planets in the Solar System, such as pulsar planets, hot Jupiters, and eccentric Jupiters. Some, such as super-Earths and hot or warm Neptunes, are common, occurring in 30-40% of planetary systems. What does this imply for the presence of life? What about the prospects of finding life? Might other planets be more suitable for life than Earth?

Here’s a spectacular visualization of what a spaceship might see upon visiting Kepler 16B, a planet recently discovered by the space-based Kepler satellite, which is part of a multiple-star solar system.

Dr. Frederick Ringwald is a Professor of Physics and the Director of Fresno State’s Observatories, in the Department of Physics at California State University, Fresno. Tune in for an interview with Dr. Ringwald on the next episode of our radio show Science: A Candle In The Dark, which will air on Tuesday, 26 May 2015  at 3:30 PM on Fresno’s Free Speech Radio station KFCF 88.1FM (or stream online). Then join us at Peeve’s Pub the following week for a presentation by Dr. Ringwald on what we know about the planets of other stars.

When: Monday, 4 May 2015, 7:00 PM

Where: Peeve’s Public House
, 1243 Fulton Mall, Fresno, CA 93721

Contact: 559-278-2460 (cafe inquiries) / 559-573-5735 (Pub’s number)

Here’s the full poster for this event – please feel free to download, print, and share with your friends and family:

A Hoverfly taking off.

Science: A Candle In The Dark – episode 3

A bladderwort. Image via Dr. Ulrike Müller.

Science: A Candle In The Dark
Episode 3
Airdate: 
28 April
 2015
Host: Dr. Madhusudan Katti
Guest: Dr. Ulrike Müller
Commentary: Dr. Andrew Rhys Jones

Topic: Biomechanics applies principles from physics and engineering to understand how living organisms move and function as living machines. At the same time, an engineering perspective can be quite limiting in understanding how living systems evolve, because engineers are often focused on finding and designing optimal solutions, whereas evolution rewards solutions that are just good enough. Using high-speed cameras to observe and analyze in detail the too-fast-for-the-naked-eye-to-see movements of fish, and other small organisms—insects, carnivorous bladderworts (see image above)—Fresno State biologist Dr. Ulrike Müller studies how these tiny creatures seemingly defy engineering to move in remarkably efficient ways. Dr. Müller shares insights from her research, some thoughts on the silly creationist notion of intelligent design, and on structural constraints in education systems that limit the participation of women and other minorities in science. The interview with Dr, Brady is followed by a commentary by Dr. Andrew Rhys Jones on urban water policy and what social science tells us about human behavior in the context of California’s ongoing drought, and how science can inform policy during this crisis.

Note: Pardon the slight glitch in the recording where we were unable to capture the opening few seconds of the show, so it seems as if we are jumping into the middle of it – but its only a few seconds.

A Hoverfly taking off.

In the blink of an eye – biology through the lens of a high-speed camera

A Hoverfly taking off.

A Hoverfly taking off. Image via Dr. Ulrike Muller

Have you ever wondered what all can happen in a blink of an eye? At Fresno State, Dr. Ulrike Müller and her research team study how small organisms move and feed. Small organisms are not only hard to see because they are small but also because they often move very fast. Using high-speed cameras that can record at 50,000 images per second and more, the team is studying how insects fly, how fish swim and how carnivorous plants catch their prey. They found that plants might just be the fastest predators, ingesting their prey in less than 1 millisecond, and that fish larvae can swim at more than 60 body lengths per second – for comparison, Michael Phelps reaches around 1 body length per second. High-speed recordings are helping us to understand how animals generate large forces to move fast, and how they control their movements. High-speed cameras help us discover new ways to swim and to fly to inspire new designs for small flying and swimming robots.
Dr. Ulrike Müller is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at California State University, Fresno. To get a preview of Dr. Müller’s talk, tune in to KFCF 88.1FM (or stream online) at 3:30 PM on Tuesday, 28 April 2015, for the next episode of our radio show Science: A Candle In The Dark, where she will be the featured guest. Then join us at Peeve’s Pub the following week for a presentation by Dr. Müller about life in motion, as seen through the lens of high speed cameras. Dr. Müller will share some astonishing videos and images recorded in her laboratory showing some of the extraordinary ways in which different small organisms move. Check out this Snakefly take off, for example.

When: Monday, 4 May 2015, 7:00 PM

Where:  Peeve’s Public House
, 1243 Fulton Mall, Fresno, CA 93721

Contact:  559-278-2460 (cafe inquiries) / 559-573-5735 (Pub’s number)

Here’s the full poster for this event – please feel free to download, print, and share with your friends and family: