Another week where you get a Women in Science rather than a weekly wrap up.
As a lot of you know I try to follow developments in the search for exoplanets and we have found quite a few now (1846 Confirmed / 4604 Candidates). While we know somethings about these planets there is plenty that we don’t know. The biggest question is do any of them support life. There are things we can look for that would support life. One team is trying to look at the light as it passes through the atmosphere of a planet transiting a star and using the absorption spectrum to see what is in the atmosphere.
NASA has formed a group call NExSS, currently made up of teams from 11 institutions, to answer some of these questions. They expect more teams and international teams to join in as things get rolling. NASA selected three people to lead this initiative each from a different NASA Center. Two of those people are Natalie Batalha and Dawn Gelino.
Natalie Batalha is a co-investigator on the Kepler Project.. She has written a number of papers but two of them relate to Kepler. The first talks about the criteria they used to select what spot of sky they were going to study. A number of factors went in to that including the ability for ground based telescope to look at that area of the sky to follow up; stars of a type that they predict would be more likely to have planets and to minimize clutter in the background.
The second paper narrowed the half a million stars in the field to 150,000 that they viewed. The first step was to catalogue all the stars in the field with ground based telescopes. They predicted which stars they would be able to detect a transiting star based on their equipment, the background clutter and the size of planet they could detect for that star.
Dawn Gelino created the website “The Habitable Zone Gallery” with a partner and wrote a paper on the math used to calculate the data. The site is wonderful and I have spent too much time looking at orbits. The movies are particularly cool as they give the temperature of the planet as they orbit.
She has written a number of papers to do with the habitable zones of planets. Habitable zone are basically defined as where water would be in liquid form. Clearly there are a lot of variables that enter into that. Some planets have orbits that only have parts of their orbit in the habitable zone. Our atmosphere affects the temperature of our planet so the composition of exoplanet atmospheres would also. The above image is one where the orbit crosses the habitable zone but it would be really cold in winter and boiling in summer. (173K to 397K / -100 c to 124 c)
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