Archive by category | American Astronomical Society

AAS 2010: Another super-Earth! Are you yawning?

AAS 2010: Another super-Earth! Are you yawning?

Astronomers have found the second smallest exoplanet, HD156668b, a so-called “super-Earth” that’s just four times the mass of the Earth. With an orbit of just 4.6 days (compare that to Mercury’s 88-day orbit), this planet would not be a nice place for life. Yet, that such a small planet can be duly reported at AAS amid shoulder shrugging by the scientists and press alike shows just how far the exoplanet field has come in a few years.  Read more

AAS 2010: Charlie Bolden, science cheerleader

AAS 2010: Charlie Bolden, science cheerleader

The astronomers heard what they wanted to hear. Even as NASA sits in limbo, awaiting a presidential decision on the future of the human spaceflight programme, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told hundreds of astronomers that their budget would be sacrosanct. “The future of human spaceflight will not be paid out of the hide of the science budget,” said Bolden on Tuesday in a jam-packed NASA town hall at AAS.  Read more

AAS 2010: Washington DC

AAS 2010: Washington DC

Howdy folks: It’s a frigid morning here in Washington DC, the site for this year’s American Astronomical Society meeting, where 3,500 attendees are expected to pack into the Marriott Wardman Park hotel. This is where I live and work, so instead of tumbling down to the conference from a warm hotel room, I had a lung-scouring walk to the hotel against the wind in 20 degree weather. On the flip side, I know where the bars and restaurants are. Happy to provide advice. After an opening talk from Kepler PI Bill Borucki — stay tuned for the latest discoveries from this mission that could very well bag the first exo-Earth — the conference is underway.  Read more

AAS 2009: Pulsars spinning, on the dance floor

AAS 2009: Pulsars spinning, on the dance floor

“Do you realize that we are up to our 11th year of parties?” says Gina Brissenden, who was hemmed within a scrum of astronomers on the patio, but utterly pleased about it. Hundreds of astronomers had turned out to the Rhythm Lounge in Long Beach, and were rapidly starting to get their groove on (aided and abetted by the ‘Galileo 400’ drink special). What began as an impromptu afterparty in a hotel room, organized by Gina, has since turned into a biannual bacchanalia for the young, the old; for those inclined to dance, and for those who you wish weren’t so inclined.  Read more

AAS 2009: Don’t be shy, cuddle up to an M dwarf

AAS 2009: Don’t be shy, cuddle up to an M dwarf

Some 70% of the stars in the galaxy are M dwarfs, and so exoplanet surveys will be targeting these relatively cool, small stars. But the habitable zone for Earth-like planets in these systems will be at least five times closer to the M dwarf than the Earth is to the sun. That keeps the planet warm, but also subjects it to the star’s capricious behavior. “They flare as powerfully or even more so than the Sun,” says Lucianne Walkowicz, of the University of California at Berkeley, who gauged the effects of an M dwarf flare on planetary habitability in an AAS poster session. “People assumed that this would just sterilize the planet.”  … Read more

AAS 2009: Fermi finds new pulsar classes

AAS 2009: Fermi finds new pulsar classes

In just a matter of months, the Fermi gamma ray observatory since its launch has found dozens of new pulsars — spinning, magnetized remnants of supernovae — that emit a flashing signal in the gamma-ray part of the spectrum only. This new class of pulsar has revolutionized scientists’ view of its general structure: Early in a pulsar’s lifetime, it blasts a broad gamma-ray signal rather than a narrow polar one, as was previously thought. The findings, announced Tuesday at AAS, also includes a club within a club: a subclass of the gamma-ray-only pulsars that flash exceptionally quickly, an indication that they are revving up as they partially devour their dying partners in binary star systems.  Read more