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Now on Tuesday, November 13th: Explore Exoplanets with Emily Rice

Q&As

Over the last few years, the search for planets that revolve around stars other than our Sun—known as exoplanets—has accelerated and yielded amazing results. Will scientists find one whose conditions closely resemble Earth’s? Find out what lies ahead in the Tuesday, October 30, Astronomy Live! program with Emily Rice, an astrophysicist and Museum research associate who will guide visitors on a “ride” through space in the Hayden Planetarium Space Theater.

 

Q: So, Emily, what are exoplanets, and why are they interesting?

Emily Rice: Exoplanets are the new black holes! They're just so fascinating—humans have wondered for hundreds of years if there are planets around other stars, and within the last two decades we've progressed very rapidly from finding the first handful to confirming thousands of them.

Q: How are you and your team able to show visual renderings of exoplanets in the dome of the Hayden Planetarium Space Theater here at the Museum?

ER: In the dome we'll focus on visualizing the sheer numbers of exoplanets that have been discovered and confirmed. I'll also explain the methods we use to detect exoplanets, what each method tells us about the planetary system, and what it really means to look for "Earth-like" planets.

Q: How many exoplanets have been identified so far?

ER: There are about 800, though the number can vary depending on how reliable the evidence is—most exoplanets are detected indirectly, and even the direct detections can be uncertain. Right now there are also thousands of exoplanet candidates that have been discovered by the Kepler mission—2,321 to be exact. They are still candidates because the science team insists on painstaking follow-up observations to confirm each discovery, but they estimate that at least 80 to 90 percent of the candidates are real.

Q: Can you explain what the Kepler mission is?

ER: The Kepler mission is a spacecraft in orbit around the Sun with a 1-meter telescope and 95-megapixel camera. It monitors the brightness of over 150,000 stars in one region of the sky for transiting exoplanets, which show up as periodic dips in the brightness of a star.

Q: How many exoplanets do astronomers estimate there might be in the Milky Way galaxy?

ER: One of the great things about the Kepler mission is that the results can answer a question like that! With the current data, scientists estimate that there are at least 50 billion planets in the Milky Way galaxy and at least 500 million planets are in the habitable zone around their stars. That doesn't mean the planets are necessarily habitable, or that they will have life or advanced civilizations, but it's a start.

Q: Do you think there might be life on one, or some, or most of those?

ER: I'll talk about those details in the presentation on October 30th!

Click here to purchase tickets for the Emily Rice event, in the Hayden Planetarium Space Theater.

Please note: This program is a rescheduled session of the October 30 program, which was canceled due to the impact of Hurricane Sandy. Visitors who had purchased a ticket for the October 30 program cancontact Central Reservations at 212-496-4234 to exchange their ticket or receive a refund.

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