Sunday June 24th, 2012
Douglas Caldwell - A decade ago, astronomers could only speculate about whether planets were a happy commonplace in the universe, or distressingly rare. The discovery of hundreds of worlds around other stars has shown that planets orbit at least 5 to 10 percent of all stars. But how many of these planets are Earth-size, and possibly Earth-like? Physicist Doug Caldwell is an expert on one of the most promising schemes for finding small worlds far beyond our solar system: looking for the slight dimming of a star caused when a planet crosses between it and us.
Debra Ann Fischer- Debra Fischer is a professor of Astronomy at Yale University. Her research is centered on the detection and characterization of planets orbiting other stars. Since 1997, she has participated in the discovery of more than 150 planets, working with colleagues Geoff Marcy (UC Berkeley), Paul Butler (Carnegie Institution) and Steve Vogt (UCSC). Working with colleague Jeff Valenti (Space Telescope Science Institute) she has modeled spectra of stars on planet search programs at Lick Observatory, Keck Observatory, the Anglo-Australian Observatory, demonstrating a strong correlation between the chemical composition of stars and the presence of gas giant planets. Buy Debra Ann Fischer's SETIcon II Interview DVD
Jon M. Jenkins - the Analysis Lead for Kepler, which means that he heads up a group of about two dozen scientists and programmers who designed and built the software that makes this dramatic search for other worlds possible. With a brightness precision of 20 parts per million, Kepler should be able to discover planets that are the same size as the rocky, inner orbs of our own solar system. By making an inventory of such worlds, Kepler will answer one of the most intriguing questions in astrobiology: are Earth-size planets abundant or rare?
Martin Still - Kepler is NASA's Discovery mission to find Earth-sized, habitable exoplanets. The spacecraft, in an Earth-trailing orbit, yields 165,000 simultaneous light curves of Galactic and extra-Galactic sources over a 108 square degree field in the Cygnus-Lyra direction, with uninterrupted cadences of 1- and 30-minutes over a nominal mission lifetime of 3.5 years. The Kepler Guest Observer Office is tasked with maximizing the quality and depth of Kepler parallel science, exploiting the unique properties of this space-based telecope to impact multiple areas of astrophysics outside the core program of planet transits. Still began his role as Director of the Kepler Guest Observer Office in August 2009. His scientific interests lie in the study of accretion, compact binary stars, black hole physics, gamma-ray bursts and exoplanet detection and characterization.
Dana Backman Dana Backman is director of SOFIA's Outreach programs. An infrared astronomer, his research interests include formation of planetary systems, nearby stars with planetary debris disks, and the evolution of our solar system, especially the Kuiper Belt. He also teaches introductory astronomy and other science courses at Santa Clara University and in Stanford University's Continuing Studies Program. He is co-author of three introductory astronomy textbooks with Mike Seeds of Franklin & Marshall College.