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Date: March 16, 2011
Speaker: Dr. Alan P. Boss, Carnegie Institution, Washington D.C.
Topic: The Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets
Time and Location: Talk starts at 1:00 PM with Q&A to follow. It will be held in one of the first floor conference rooms at the American Center for Physics, One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD. This is located off River Road, between Kenilworth Ave. and Paint Branch Parkway.
Abstract: Nearly 500 planets have been found outside our Solar System, ranging from the familiar to the weirdly unexpected. The discovery of dozens of super-Earths, planets with masses of roughly 5 to 15 times the mass of the Earth, implies that Earth-like planets are commonplace. NASA's Kepler Mission, now underway, will determine the frequency of habitable, Earth-like planets in our neighborhood of the galaxy. Once that frequency is known, we will know how best to design specialized space telescopes that will be capable of weighing and imaging these new worlds, and telling us whether their atmospheres show evidence of the molecules necessary for life (e.g., water and carbon dioxide), and possibly even those created by life (e.g., oxygen and methane). We will then know if any nearby stars harbor planets that are habitable, and perhaps even inhabited. We will know just how crowded the universe really is.
Biography: Alan Boss is a research staff member at the Carnegie Institution's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism in northwest Washington, D.C. Boss received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1979. He spent two years as a postdoctoral fellow at NASA's Ames Reseach Center in California before joining the staff of DTM in 1981. Boss's theoretical research focuses on using three dimensional hydrodynamics codes to model the formation of stars and planetary systems. Boss has proposed an alternative means for forming the gas and ice giant planets of our Solar System and in extrasolar planetary systems, a scenario that is much faster than the conventional mechanism. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Meteoritical Society, and the American Geophysical Union. Boss was the founding chair of the International Astronomical Union's Working Group on Extrasolar Planets. He has been helping NASA plan its search for extrasolar planets since 1988 and continues to be active in helping to guide NASA's efforts. Boss leads a ground-based astrometric planet search effort at Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. He has published two books about the search for planets outside the Solar System, Looking for Earths: The Race to Find New Solar Systems in 1998, and The Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets in 2009. He is currently the President of IAU Commission 53 on Extrasolar Planets, Chair of Astronomy Section of the AAAS, and Chair of the Astrophysics Subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Council. He also serves on NASA's Exoplanet Technology Assessment Committee and on the Science Working Group for NASA's Kepler Mission.