Thursday, March 27, 2014

Science Cafe Hosts Exoplanet Talk In Little Rock

From Left: Dr. David Thomas, Dr. Jeff Robertson, and Dr. Scott Austin answer questions from the public at the "Science Cafe" panel discussion on exoplanets. Photo by J. Lewter
   Just in case you didn't know Little Rock sometimes serves as a hub of scientific information, now you do! The Science Cafe is an educational outreach effort featuring a new topic each month, and the topic for March was "Exoplanets: The Next Frontier." 
   Exoplanets are planets found outside of our Solar System, and we weren't even aware that they existed until 1995. 
   The guest speakers included astrobiologist Dr. David Thomas of Lyon College, astrophysicist Dr. Jeff Robertson of Arkansas Tech University, and astrophysicist Dr. Scott Austin of the University of Central Arkansas. The general public was invited to attend the panel discussion hosted by the Afterthought Bistro and Bar in Little Rock. 
   The question and answer session lasted for two hours, and among the most interesting things mentioned included, "planets are formed as by-products of star formation." What that means is every star in the sky probably has planets around it. 
   Right now we have evidence of nearly 5000 exoplanets (961 planets have been confirmed) from data collected by NASA's Kepler space telescope. That's quite significant, considering back in 1994, we had evidence of 0 exoplanets. 
    What are the chances that one or more of these planets may have life on it? No one really knows the answer to that, but if you go outside on a clear night and count the stars you see, the sheer number of planets that are probably out there is larger than one can easily conceive. Why would Earth be the only one?

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