Category Archives: Science

Women in Science – Carolyn Porco

Ok I am not going to get to a weekly update in this week so I am finishing up this “Women in Science” Post that has been sitting in my drafts for far too long.

Today’s post is on Dr Carolyn Porco who is a planetary scientist. Reading about her was like going down the rabbit hole. Every step I took involved taking another step so I could understand the first step. Every wonder led to another wonder that I need to read about. She has written 115 scientific papers so clearly I am only going to be scratching the surface. As always hopefully this is a starting point for your own rabbit hole of discovery. For the first link we will go with her biography on her website.

Carolyn Porco
Carolyn Porco (Source Wikipedia)

Bio on her website

Wikipedia – Carolyn Porco

She was a member of the Voyager Imaging Team. As part of that team she described the ringlets and spokes in the rings of Saturn. She also showed how the two newly discovered moons of Uranus were shepherding the outer rings.

Vg1 p23254 hires

Saturn as imaged by Voyager 1
She also made a prediction along with another that certain features in the rings were cause by oscillations in Saturn and could be used as a seismograph. This led to a greater understanding of the structure of Saturn and other planets with rings. This prediction was shown to be correct 20 years latter with the Cassini / Huygens mission where she is in charge of the imaging team.

Huygens surface color sr

The Cassini / Huygens mission discovered seven new moons of Saturn and some new rings. One of the cool things is that they did some close flybys of some of the moons and dropped the Huygens probe down to the surface of Titan. One of these moons, Enceladus, is the most likely place for us to find life. It has been speculated that life there might predate life on Earth and even be the source.

Enceladus geysers
Enceladus geysers
In the TED video below she talks about the geysers on the south pole of Enceladus and that there is a liquid ocean under a frozen surface. She also talks about some of the carbon based molecules they detected as they flew the space craft through the geysers.

The next video is actually the TED talk that is mention above as having happened two years prior. In this one she is talking more about the discoveries on Titan and the landing of the probe Huygens.

Other Links…

Wikipedia – Enceladus

Cassini Imaging Website

Linking up at:

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Women in Science – Sandra Faber

Dr Sandra Faber is a Professor at the University of Califonia, Santa Cruz. She studies the formation of galaxies and the structure of the universe. Given that, I thought it would be a good idea to start with a short video on the size of the universe.

I started by reading the Wikipedia article on her. That led me off onto a journey though many pages. Some I had heard of but never actually read about or understood, the rest I had no idea about. She is the co-discoverer of the Faber-Jackson relationship that links the luminosity of elliptical galaxies to the velocity of the stars within. This leads to being able to estimate the distance to the galaxy.

Sandra Faber with Hubble Deep Field, courtesy R. R. Jones, Hubble Deep field Team, NASA:
Sandra Faber with Hubble Deep Field, courtesy R. R. Jones, Hubble Deep field Team, NASA:

She was also the head of the team that discovered the “Great Attractor”, a gravity anomaly. We now know that it is the central gravitational point for the Laniakea Supercluster that contains 100,000 galaxies.

The first video I found talks about the repairs to Hubble and her role in it. She diagnosed the problem and worked on coming up with a fix. They also talk about the look back effect of telescopes and Hubble specifically. The look back effect is that light takes time to travel and thus the light we see has spent years travelling. In the case of Hubble it can look at things where the light has been travelling 13 billion years and thus we are looking back at our early universe. I particularly liked the bit where she mentions liking that being a professor allows her to mentor others.

Time 6:12

The next video is a TED talk that she did. She starts with a simulation of the formation of our galaxy. It is a chaotic formation but it is also beautiful. The coolest thing is the pictures of infant solar systems in the stellar nursery of Orion. It shows brand new starts surrounded by a dark disk of dust. She also shows us a picture of Earth taken from behind Saturn. I spotted the Earth right away but that was because I had seen the photo before and had a rough remembrance of where to look.

The growth problem that she talks about is a bit of a downer but something that we do need to deal with. Global warming is really the tip of that iceberg. We do have the technology to get past that one but there is a limit and we will hit it eventually unless we come up with solutions. In Larry Niven’s Ringworld the problem of growth is seen in a number of the races and dealt with in a variety of ways.

I have to say that I do believe in miracles however explaining my beliefs is its own post and probably will never be written.

Time 17:28

The final article is an interview that she gave PBS. In it she explains how galaxies allowed the formation of planets. The gravity of the galaxy gathered up the heavier elements ejected from supernova. Without supernovas there would be no heavier elements and therefore no planets.

She also talks about spectrum and how they can use that to tell what elements a galaxy is made of. There is also a link to a website where you can try your hand at deciphering some spectrum.

PBS – Galaxies

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Women in Science – Sara Seager

Since I have a daughter that is interested in science I wanted to share some of the interesting women in science that I have come across. I don’t mean for this to be a full biography of them, that is what Wikipedia is for, but rather a starting point for people to do their own research. So these will have a lot of links to articles and videos with some text to explain why those links are interesting.

Back in 2012 I wrote a guest post on The Momma Knows called “E is for Exoplanet”. In it I talk about the Kepler Space Observatory. Sara Seager was one of the people that work on Kepler. On finding that it lead me to other exoplanet projects that she is leading or involved with. A number of those I was already aware of. As a result I decided that my first of these posts should be on her.

In that 2012 article I stated that there were 832 exoplanets, now there are 1826 confirmed and 4229 that probably are but they haven’t enough data yet to confirm. Above is a pin that has a handy chart of the types of planets they have found. The big numbers include the ones they don’t have enough data to confirm. The little numbers in the lower right are confirmed planets.

Lets start with the Wikipedia article on her. She is the Head of Planetary Group in the Dept. of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at MIT among other titles. It is interesting to read but the videos are better and more up to date.

Seager 2013 hi-res-download2 1

Wikipedia – Sara Seager

The first video is the newest that I could find. She talks about what we know so far about exoplanets and some future missions like TESS.

Wikipedia – TESS

This video discusses TESS and the cube satellite ExoplanetSat. She also talks about some of the weirder planets that they have found. She is the Principal Investigator on Exoplanetsat and a Co-Investigator on TESS.

The next video is a TED talk and covers some of the same material as the earlier videos but it was the first one I found and it compactly covers the major ideas.

Below are links to two articles that also talk about the future of exoplanet science. They also contain a quote that I really like:

“At the end of the day if you don’t stay in science you have gained a skill that most people don’t have.”

Universe Today – Life after Kepler – Upcoming Exoplanet Missions

Universe Today – Changing the Paradigm – Exoplanet Interview with Dr Sara Seager

The article also gave me an answer of a question I had about ExoplanetSat. I had wondered why it hadn’t launched yet. It turns out that they are waiting on funding but they are close to being able to launch.

The next video has to do with an award that she received. The cool part is that she has a ExoplanetSat sitting on her desk. She also talks a bit about how she became interested in Astronomy and how she would like to see more women in the sciences.

The final video is a long one but it goes much more in depth on the above topics. The questions that she covers are:

What could aliens see, looking at earth from afar?
When will we find another Earth?
Can we go there?
If we can not go there, why look?

Hopefully this will give people an idea of what is out there and ideas to research.