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Astronomers associated with NASA’s Kepler observatory have announced the discovery of more than 1,200 new candidate exoplanets. Michael Shara, a curator in the Museum’s Department of Astrophysics, writes about the significance of the findings below.
Does life exist anywhere in the universe except on Earth? “Star Trek” may have convinced much of the public that the universe is teeming with technological civilizations, but the correct answer is: We don’t know for certain if life–even bacterial life — exists anywhere except on Earth. A critical challenge in answering this question is determining whether planets — especially Earth-like planets — orbit other stars.
The search for Earth-like planets has just taken a giant leap forward, thanks in part to the tireless work of the dozens of astronomers associated with NASA’s Kepler observatory. Their quest to find exoplanets — planets orbiting stars other than our Sun — has been a stunning success. It is now certain that planets are as common stars.
Fifteen years ago the University of California, Berkeley’s Geoff Marcy and a handful of colleagues began an almost quixotic quest for exoplanets. Dozens, and then hundreds of astronomers joined the quest after Geneva’s Michel Mayor, Marcy, and their colleagues began reporting the first discoveries. Herculean efforts led to the cataloguing of 500 exoplanets by the end of 2010. Now the Kepler team has announced the discovery of more than 1,200 new candidate exoplanets, and enough details about each of these new worlds to begin to draw far-reaching conclusions about abodes for life in the universe.
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On Wednesday, February 2, Jane McGonigal,author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, will discuss why games are engineered to maximize human potential and how they can change and influence life in the real world. She recently answered a few questions about her research.
How popular is gaming? What’s behind this popularity?
Currently there are more than half a billion people worldwide playing online games at least an hour a day — and 183 million in the U.S. alone. The younger you are, the more likely you are to be a gamer: 97% of boys under 18 and 94% of girls under 18 report playing videogames regularly. And the average young person racks up 10,000 hours of gaming by the age of 21. That’s 24 hours less than they spend in a classroom for all of middle and high school if they have perfect attendance. It’s really a remarkable amount of time we’re spending playing games. Five million gamer in the U.S., in fact, are spending more than 40 hours a week playing games — the equivalent of a full time job!
Why is this happening? According to my research, it’s because games do a better job of provoking our most powerful positive emotions, like curiosity, optimism, pride, and a desire to join forces with others to achieve something extraordinary. Games are also a particularly effective way to bond with our friends and family, strengthening our real-life and online social networks in ways that no other kind of social interaction can.
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“Batman! Superman! Spiderman!” shouted a crowd of young campers, eager to share the names of their favorite superheroes, as guide Michael Malave kicked off his “super power” tour through the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life and the Akeley Hall of African Mammals.
“When you look around the hall, you can see many animals, and each of them has an ability that helps them to succeed and survive,” explained Malave to the pack of superhero enthusiasts. “This is much like how superheroes use their powers to win and beat the bad guys.”
Malave, who studies applied math at Marist College, was one of 32 students selected for last year’s Museum Education and Employment Program (MEEP), a summer internship that trains college-age students from the New York City area to develop and lead free themed tours for camp groups who flock to the Museum’s halls each weekday. In 2010, MEEPers, as the student guides are affectionately known, led more than 580 tours in a span of six weeks — an average of more than 20 tours a day.
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On Tuesday, January 25, the Museum kicked off the six-day Global Weekends: Brain and the Tibetan Creative Mind program with a traditional opening ceremony performed by monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery. Known in Tibet as Sa-chong, the ceremony, which includes chants, music, and mantras, prepared the area for the creation of a sand mandala. Over the next four days, the monks will complete the “Medicine Buddha” sand mandala in the Hall of Birds of the World.
Visit the Museum to see a traditional cham performance, learn about Tibetan arts, watch the making of the sand mandala, and more. The full schedule is available here. And, check out the clip of Tuesday’s opening ceremony below.