Friday, November 30, 2012

Music Inspired by Astronomy

One of my hobbies is collecting examples of music that are seriously influenced by astronomy -- I've found astronomical ideas in both popular songs and classical music. A new catalog of such music (organized by topic) has just been published, and I thought some of you might enjoy seeing the collection of weird and wonderful pieces I have found over the years. (Only pieces available on commercial CD's are included.) The list can be found at:

Most of these pieces may not be your cup of tea, but if you are dying to know what six songs include scientifically valid information or ideas about black holes, this is the place you will find an answer.  (Note that this list doesn't including anything about astronauts or space travel, nor does it include any so-called new-age "space music.)   But perhaps you can discover a few pieces that you may enjoy reading about or hearing on your own music player.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Super-Earth in a Zone Where Life May be Possible

An international team of astronomers recently announced the discovery of a planet that orbits a star in a zone where the conditions may be right for life -- and it's all just 44 lightyears 
away. The image here shows an artist's conception of this planet, which -- fair warning -- may not look anything like the Earth or this picture! It is the kind of planet we call a Super-Earth -- in this case it may be 7 times as massive as our planet or more. (No such planet exists in our solar system, so we don't know what it might be made of or would look like.  For example, we don't know if such Super-Earths are made mostly of rock like the Earth or mostly of gas and liquid, like Jupiter.)

Still, the newly discovered planet is one of six planets orbiting a quiet old star known only by its ugly catalog number HD40307. Of the six, the new planet is the only one at the right distance from the star that conditions on it (or perhaps one of its moons, if it has any) might be right for liquid water and life as we know it. The planet takes 198 Earth days to go around its star, and since the star is cooler than the Sun, that orbit turns out to be just right.

This is not the first Super-Earth that astronomers have uncovered in the habitable zone of its star, but it is the closest and the most interesting so far. Planet news just keeps rolling in, and we may someday look back at these decades following the discovery of the first planet outside the solar system (in 1995) as a golden age of planet discovery.  Recall from earlier posts that the Kepler mission (the big camera in space) is continuing to find a slew of planets and has thousands of candidate planets which scientists are checking out.  Stay tuned for more planet discoveries in the months and year ahead.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Lecture on "Finding the Next Earth" Now on the Web

With the restart of the Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures, which I have the privilege of organizing, we are posting the talks on the Web as audio and video. The latest one, on the amazing pla
nets the Kepler mission is finding around other stars, by Kepler Mission Scientist Natalie Batalha, is now available free of charge to everyone.