Saturday, February 21, 2009

The search for new Earths is on in Seattle

Astronomer Alan P. Boss has a few fantastic jobs.
  1. He maintains NASA's official list of planets, as chair of the International Astronomical Union's (yes, this is the group that gave Pluto the boot*) working group on extrasolar planets.
  2. He oversees all NASA missions leading to the detection of habitable Earths, as a member of the NASA External Independent Readiness Board for the Navigator Program.
  3. He helps NASA plan its search for extrasolar planets.
What does it take to get such great gigs?
Just a doctorate in physics, some postdoctoral work for NASA, a post on staff at the Carnegie Institution of Washington Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, and more than 25 years of research into the formation of stars and planetary systems.

On March 5, the Kepler Mission, NASA's first mission capable of finding earth-size and smaller planets, launches to hunt for worlds that could potentially host life. "Kepler is scheduled to blast into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., aboard a Delta II rocket on March 5 at 10:48 p.m. EST," says a Feb. 19 NASA press release.

Eleven days later Boss talks extraterrestrials, 7:30 p.m., Mon., March 16 at Town Hall Seattle. And, as someone who has spent a lifetime closely watching the stars, Boss thinks we will find alien life. He'll explain why in his presentation, or, check out his book of the same title,
The Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets (2009). From the book blurb:
Life is not only possible elsewhere in the universe, Boss argues-it is common... America must stay in this new space race, Boss contends, or risk being left out of one of the most profoundly important discoveries of all time: the first confirmed finding of extraterrestrial life.

The intelligent life on earth sponsoring Boss' lecture includes: Seattle Science Lectures, Pacific Science Center, and University Book Store.

Tickets are $5 at, call 1.800.838.3006, or at the door beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Hey, did I have you at Pluto? If you're free Monday night, you don't have to wait until March for your astronomy lecture. Check out astrophysicist and Hayden Planetarium director Neil deGrasse Tyson's talk The Pluto Files, 7:30 p.m., Mon. Feb. 23 also at Town Hall Seattle. Same deal as above with the tickets.


Laurel Kornfeld said...

Only four percent of the IAU voted to demote Pluto, and most are not planetary scientists. Their decision was immediately rejected by hundreds of professional astronomers led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto. This debate is far from over, as many people, both scientists and lay people, are working behind the scenes to get the demotion overturned.

Neil deGrasse Tyson will not give you the whole story either. His description of Pluto as a "large comet" is inaccurate. And he contradicts himself on the IAU decision, on the one hand calling "flawed" and on the other citing it to vindicate his design of the Rose Center.

To learn both sides of this debate, visit the site of the Great Planet Debate, held in August 2008 at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, in Laurel, MD, here: You will find very informative audio and video files, including a debate between Tyson and Dr. Mark Sykes of the Planetary Sciences Institute.

Shel Graves said...

Laurel, thanks for the intel on the ongoing Pluto debate, great link.