The summer brings a little relief to undergraduate students in universities as they head off for a break, but it also provides some variety to researchers as they cram as many large meetings in foreign climes as possible into this area of the year.
Starting off with a completed meeting or two. Nancy Atkinson of the newly redesigned Universe Today site has been reporting on events at NASA’s annual Lunar Forum, and she finds lunar science as vibrant as ever – perhaps event more so with the glint of newly confirmed lunar ice in the eyes of researchers. A very kind soul, she’s even offering goodies from the event in a competition.
Jonathan Butterworth has been writing a blog or two for the Guardian regarding the ICHEP2010 meeting for high energy particle physicists and particle astrophysicists of all flavours. Apart from me. The meeting has already generated several related stories including this one pointing out energy ranges where they’re pretty sure the Higg’s boson (particle responsible for mass) no longer can be thought to exist and the remaining likely energies left to explore. Since 2001, Fermilab has explored and ruled out one quarter of those energies. The tentative schedule for the next decade of the Large Hadron Collider was also published at the meeting, with the next three years set to be a tussle between it and the Tevatron for exploring that final area of energy as well as performing all the other experiments required of such machines.
One conference going on now is Molecules in Galaxies, which is being live-tweeted by Chris Lintott (he of the Sky at Night and the Zooniverse). Interesting things featured include the Cosmic Eyelash, a gravitationally lensed galaxy full of starbirth lying in a distant recess of the universe, magnified by an intervening galaxy cluster.
Not all conferences of interest are officially academic, however. In the recent TEDGlobal conference, whose talks are put online, Dimitar Sasselov, a Kepler scientist has released to the world the size distributions of the four hundred exoplanets the team behind the space telescope are keeping under wraps for further analysis, added to those confirmed previously. They show a strong tendency in the data toward Earth sized planets, with an enormous 130 candidate planets coming out at around twice our size or less (down to around one Earth radius, which is around the limit of Kepler’s sensitivity). Now size doesn’t mean like, and indeed if they do have an Earth-like candidate in the list, it won’t be confirmed for some time as it would have to be orbiting another year before it is seen to dim the light of its star again and Kepler just hasn’t been staring that long. It should be said, the first paper I saw this in wasn’t a refereed journal paper, but the Sunday Times. The size distribution was announced a while ago (so why the hysterics from NASA Watch?), but this is the first nicely packaged graph of what it would look like, should the recent 706 candidate planets be confirmed. What the distribution could mean, more importantly, is that Earth sized worlds dominate the scene, so although we appear to be spotting big planets all over the shop now, smaller dots are even more prevalent. As I mentioned earlier, Kepler’s limit is around Earth sized, so imagine now going down to Venus size, or Mars size – how many of those worlds could be out there? Under the radar? If they’re in an Earth-like orbit around a Sun-like star, even a Kepler mission with suitable sensitivity would be unable to tell officially until three orbits had been registered.
And now onto two upcoming meetings. September will see Desert RATS, NASA’s annual display of new space technology crawling over terrain matched to another planet. We know the what and the when, but what about the where? Well, this time it is up for a vote. NASA can’t decide and wants your opinion through this website.