Tag Archives: Space

BICEP2 & Gravitational Waves 101: Recap of Panel Discussion ft. Alan Guth, John Kovac, Scott Hughes, & Max Tegmark

The Talk:

The BICEP2 Results and What They Mean: The First Observation of Gravitational Waves from the Early Universe

In Plain English:

The guys who came up with gravitational wave theory explain the gravitational wave story that’s been blowing up everybody’s Facebook feed in terms undergrads can understand

The Speakers:

Alan Guth of MIT (the guy who came up with repulsive gravity theory), Scott Hughes of MIT, Max Tegmark of MIT, and John Kovac of Harvard (the Primary Investigator on the telescope in question)

The Sponsor:

MIT Physics Department

What it covered:

When the BICEP2 team announced that they had found b-mode-style (aka “swirly pattern”) gravitational waves that confirmed inflation model of universe-formation, the internet exploded. The video feed for the press conference crashed. When the team posted their paper on arXiv, the it got 3.5 million hits in the first 11 hours.

That’s for the formal academic research write-up (and the average academic research write-up is lucky if 35 people read it all the way through). In the first 11 hours. Continue reading “BICEP2 & Gravitational Waves 101: Recap of Panel Discussion ft. Alan Guth, John Kovac, Scott Hughes, & Max Tegmark” »

How to find a planet that could hold life – Recap of talk by Dr. Sara Seager

The Talk:

Exoplanets and the Real Search for Alien Life

In Plain English:

Astrophysicist on the Search for Planets that Could Harbor Earth-like Life

The Speaker:

Sara Seager of the MIT Physics Department

The Sponsor:

MIT Presidential Fellows/Sidney-Pacific Distinguished Lecture Series

What it covered:

Dr. Sara Seager is an astrophysicist and MacArthur Foundation Fellow who is looking for signs of life on other planets. She doesn’t listen for alien radio signals; she looks at sizes, colors, and behaviors of visible exoplanets and tries to figure out what chemicals are in those planets’ atmospheres.

The presence of small-molecule compounds that are easily broken apart (like O2) could indicate that there are life forms on the planet that are constantly producing said compounds. Without the organisms that keep adding O2 to our atmosphere, we would run out of it pretty quickly. Even if we weren’t breathing it in, other molecules would still cozy up to the oxygen atoms and break them apart. So it’s a good thing our biosphere is home to an awesome team of leafy green autotrophs who excel at producing O2.

So Sara Seager and others in her field are brainstorming ways look for chemicals that could indicate the presence of life. In most cases, the first step is just finding a way see the planet better. Continue reading “How to find a planet that could hold life – Recap of talk by Dr. Sara Seager” »