Topic: Four hundred years ago, Galileo pointed a simple telescope up at Jupiter and discovered moons orbiting around that planet. That was the first time any human had seen such a moon orbiting another planet, and it upended our entire conception of the universe and our place within it – a seminal moment in the history of the enlightenment. It took until just over two decades ago for astronomers to find a planet orbiting around another star. This episode features a conversation with astronomer Dr. Fred Ringwald, of the Department of Physics at California State University, about exoplanets, the possibility of life on some of them, and about the endarkening effect of US politicians refusing to look at facts and actively thwarting the study of our own planet for political reasons driven by short-term profit-seeking.
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: