BACKGROUND:

 

IN HONOR OF THE 90TH BIRTHDAY YEAR OF CHARLES H. TOWNES (more info)
& THE LAUNCH OF THE “FOUNDATIONAL QUESTIONS IN PHYSICS AND COSMOLOGY” INITIATIVE

This special event highlights current scientific achievements that have had a dramatic impact on astronomy, astrophysics, and the exploration of the universe—and the exciting, technologically ambitious quest to answer one of the greatest questions ever asked . . .

Is there life out there?

Three of the most innovative scientists in astronomy and astrophysics will discuss how new space- and ground-based exploration technologies are expanding the vision of modern science and of our place in the cosmos. The lecturers will describe how optical/infrared interferometers and very large telescopes of the next generation are helping scientists to search for and image “Earth-like” exoplanets several tens of light-years away, investigate the environment of black holes and cores of galaxies, and explore regions where new planets might be formed.

CHAIR:

Geoffrey W. Marcy, Professor of Astronomy & Director of the Center for Integrative Planetary Science, University of California, Berkeley, & Adjunct Professor of Physics and Astronomy, San Francisco State University—Director of the team at the Lick and Keck Observatories that has found more “exoplanets” than any other group.

Planets, Fringes, and Intelligent Life Near and Far

Is there life elsewhere in the universe? Are there other planetary systems like our own? How do planets come into being, and what qualities make them habitable? In the vast universe, our home planet is a lovely oasis of life. We live in a time marked by technological advances so brilliant that these philosophical questions can now be pursued not only with pure thought, but also with scientific observations.


SPEAKERS:

Reinhard Genzel, Scientific Director of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, Professor of Physics, University of California, Berkeley, & Honorary Professor of Physics, Ludwig-Maximilians University, MunichDirector of the group developing instrumentation that will use infrared interferometry to zoom in on black holes, cores of galaxies, and regions where new planets might be formed.

Inward Bound: High-Resolution Astronomy and the Quest for Black Holes and Extrasolar Planets
 
The new techniques of adaptive optics and spatial interferometry are revolutionizing our capabilities of studying the universe with high angular resolution from ground-based telescopes. I will show how in the last few years techniques have already demonstrated that a massive black hole, beyond any reasonable doubt, is located at the center of the Milky Way. Over the next decade, ever-more precise measurements will let us explore the realm of strong gravity just outside the event horizon of the hole. I will also show that the same techniques will let us study planets around stars in the vicinity of our sun.
 
 

Antoine Labeyrie, Professor of Observational Astrophysics, Collège de France, Paris, & Research Astronomer at CERGA, Observatoire de Calern à Caussols (Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur)—Inventor of the concept of the space-array interferometer and the “hypertelescope”.

Imaging Extrasolar Planets and Their Vegetation Patterns with a 100 km Hypertelescope

The notion of "other worlds" discussed by Greek philosophers twenty-three centuries ago was supported by the discovery of alien planetary systems during the last decade. In most cases, their presence was inferred indirectly; but we are now attempting to obtain images of Earth-like planets that may be orbiting stars in the sun's vicinity. Initially, such images will show no appreciable detail, and it will be difficult to know whether the planets support life. Within another decade, however, detailed images will in principle become obtainable with "multi-aperture imaging interferometers," also called "hypertelescopes," spanning 100 km in space. These will involve free-flying mirrors 3 m in size, typically numbering a hundred, constrained to an accurate formation flight. An Exo-Earth Imager of this kind can provide a snapshot image of an "Earth," located 10 light-years away, where green spots such as the Amazon basin are directly noticeable. In addition to the search for life, such images may contribute to "optical SETI," the already initiated "search for extra-terrestrial intelligence."