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Showing posts from April, 2010

My Lineage

Today I was rewriting a talk I've been giving lately about a peculiar class of planets known as "hot Jupiters": gas giant planets with period of only a few days. In past talks I would say that based on the example of our Solar System---with its giant planets in very wide, long-period orbits---"no one could have expected these hot, close-in Jupiters!"

Well, this isn't entirely true. There was a person who predicted the existence of hot Jupiters well before the first exoplanet was found around a normal star in 1995. I wanted to change my introduction to give proper credit where it is due, but I couldn't remember the intrepid astronomer who made this bold prediction. So I sent an email to Geoff Marcy:

On Apr 28, 2010, at 2:34 PM, John Johnson wrote:

Hi Geoff,

I recall you mentioning an old paper from the 60's in which the authornoted that there was no reason not to expect Jupiters in few-day orbits.Can you point me to that paper or remind me of the auth…

My academic big sister

Here's a video from last year's NSF, TMT & Discover panel, on the topic of "Mysteries of the Universe."

Mike Brown is one of my colleagues at Caltech, and his daughter is in Owen's class (the Beavers) at the Caltech Children's Center. The moderator Phil Plait is the author of a great blog called Bad Astronomy. I'm really looking forward to meeting him in person.

The woman with the awesome red socks is Debra Fischer, my friend, close collaborator and newly minted full professor of astrophysics at Yale (previously a prof. at San Francisco State). Debra and I are both former students of Geoff Marcy, so I consider her my academic big sister. She taught me how to use a telescope, plan an observing run, give a good science talk, and, most importantly, how to be a good scientist. I owe a great deal of my success to the lessons I learned from Debra late at night at Lick Observatory using the CAT to search for planets.

As if being a Yale professor isn't enoug…

Timescales and aliens

This morning I had a teleconference with the good folks running the upcoming Discover Magazine/TMT discussion panel (see the flyer in the last post). After going over the details about the format and subject matter, I'm really excited. It's going to be a lot of fun answering questions from the public about exoplanets and the prospects of finding another Earth around a star other than our own.

The discussion this morning, and the webcast of last year's event, got me thinking about what types of questions I'll likely hear. One question that I think I can count on is, "Do you think there is life out there?" This question was asked in at least two forms in last year's panel discussion, and the subject matter wasn't focused exclusively on Earth-like planets like it will be this year. And when people find out that I study exoplanets, this is usually one of their first questions.

My answer is usually in two parts. First, yes, I believe there is life out there.…

Upcoming Event!

Click for a larger view.

easter 2010 & the weirdest day ever

we did a little easter egg dying last week and i learned how much better it is to make your own dye using vinegar, hot water and food coloring. those little dissolving tablets they sell just don't even come close!

also, it was so fun to have the johnson cousins over for some easter egg hunting action. aren't the facial expressions are priceless in these group shots? they were all so annoyed with the photo session because it was keeping them from stuffing their faces with candy!

we had an amazing day last sunday at hermosa beach. shockingly enough, this was our first beach trip since the move last august. it was mighty windy and chilly, especially compared to our beach trips past. but, the chilly weather gave us plenty of time for beach football and a nice stroll up the strand so i could look into the windows of all the schmancy beachfront homes :)

about halfway into our visit & seeing other kids splashing in the waves, owen decided he wanted to get in the water. he…

My professorship at Hogwarts

TO: Faculty

FROM: Dean of Students

DATE: April 7, 2010

SUBJECT: Senior Ditch Day 2010

As it has every year since 1921, Senior Ditch Day will take place sometime this term. Ditch Day is officially recognized as a holiday by the faculty (see the Faculty Handbook, Chapter 9, page 6), but the date is kept secret by the seniors. With great care and ingenuity, the seniors set up systems of puzzles and tasks, known as "stacks", for the underclassmen to work on. Stacks take a variety of forms, and many provide themed t-shirts to the undergraduate participants.

It has been customary for instructors to make allowances for the fact that not only seniors, but all undergraduates can be expected to devote the entire day to some creative and often bizarre enterprises. Because Ditch Day can fall on any day of the week, I encourage you to plan your courses so that one lecture may be missed or rescheduled. Please postpone the due dates for work originally due on Ditch Day for the day after. I…

Computer issues

Also, I think the new xkcd interface was an April Fool's joke, but it remains pretty awes:

Up-arrow works!

h/t Kelle

Sean responds, Sam counters, Sean doubles down

Fellow Caltech scientist Sean Carroll over at Cosmic Variance disputes the notion of the objective morality advocated by Sam Harris in his TED talk. Sam explains position in greater detail. Sean is not impressed. Meanwhile, I wonder how they get any work done...while I spend my afternoon reading their posts...

Now what was I doing? Ah, yes, SCIENCE!

More on Moral Browsing

I'm very excited by the huge turn out in the comments section after my recent post on the subject of morality. Thanks to everyone who participated in the discussion.

I wanted to highlight two links people shared in the comments section. The first is to a post by a former atheist who turned to Christianity named Jennifer, from her blog Conversion Diary (hat-tip to Blissful_e). A couple of quotes:
As I studied Christianity, I found that this religion claimed to offer objective truth about life and the world, including matters of what is right and what is wrong.and
Without God -- or, to phrase it another way, without objective truth -- we are sailors without a compass, trying to rely on gut instinct to navigate troubled waters.Andrew Howard shared a related link to a recent TED talk by author Sam Harris (It's 20 minutes long, but it's much better than what's on TV right now, I guarantee you!). I include a few key quotes after the embedded video.

Now, it's often said that …