Black holes are the death eaters of the universe; sucking energy in through massive gravitational pull and throwing out mighty x-ray flares that provide the clues to their existence. Astronomers believe there is a supermassive black hole at the center of most galaxies, including our milky way. If there are death-eaters, are there also life-givers? Are we alone in the universe? Observations of flickering light is one way to detect black holes, and one that can be used to find exoplanets - planets outside our solar system - where we may also be able to detect alien life; and you don’t have to be a research physicist to do it.
What is the role of amateur astronomers in exoplanet science? What kinds of planets are suitable for hosting alien life? What do black holes tell us about our galaxy and where life in space comes from? Come to this month’s Science Pub to find out.
Prof. Ryan Hickox is an observational astronomer and a member of the Department of Physics & Astronomy at Dartmouth. In his research he explores the cosmic growth of galaxies and black holes using telescopes from all over the world and in space (including the Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory, and Southern African Large Telescope). While most of his observations span billions of light-years across the observable Universe, he is also fascinated by the recent "nearby" discoveries of thousands of new planets outside our Solar System. He co-teaches Dartmouth's course on "Habitable Planets", and is particularly excited about the potential for life on these alien worlds.
Dr. Mike DiPompeo is a professional astronomer working as a postdoctoral research associate at Dartmouth. His research focuses on the growth of supermassive black holes over the entire history of the Universe, and how these intense episodes of growth impact the evolution of galaxies. He is driven by a desire to understand how galaxies like our own Milky Way came to be, and by extension where we come from in a cosmic context.
Brad Vietje is the Outreach Coordinator and telescope operator at the Northern Skies Observatory, in Peacham, VT (www.nkaf.org). An amateur astronomer, telescope maker, and eclipse chaser for many years, Brad works to help teachers incorporate astronomy into their classrooms, and helps students learn to conduct astronomical research projects using original data. Most projects involve photometry -- measuring changes in brightness -- including variable stars, asteroids, and most recently, exoplanets.