S&T Webinar: Sara Seager on Exoplanets

Join renowned MIT researcher Sara Seager for a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how we're readying the technology to find and study planets like Earth.

The last time I had a chance to watch Sara Seager discuss the search for exoplanets, I couldn't get in. She was speaking at April's annual Northeast Astronomy Forum, and the lecture room at Rockland Community College was so packed that the overflow crowd (including me) had to settle for video screens set up in another room.

Sara Seager

MIT physicist and exoplanet expert Sara Seager.
MIT / Justin Knight

I wasn't surprised. A professor physics at MIT, Seager has gained a worldwide following for her cutting-edge approaches to the study of planets around other stars. Four years ago she was one of 24 recipients of a MacArthur Fellowship — a.k.a. the "Genius Grant" — and her stature has only grown since then.

So we're very fortunate that Seager will join us this Wednesday, September 13th, at 12:00 p.m. (noon) EDT, for a live Sky & Telescope webinar titled "Transiting Exoplanets: From Kepler to TESS and Beyond." If you're as fascinated as I am with the search for "other Earths," this is a must-see presentation.

The question of whether planets exist elsewhere isn't new — even ancient Greek philosophers considered the possibility — but only within the past two decades have astronomers marshaled the technology to find them. Today more than 3,000 exoplanets have been confirmed, most by NASA's pioneering Kepler space telescope, and statistically there should be roughly one planet for every star throughout our galaxy.

Exoplanet-hunting TESS spacecraft

An artist's conception of NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).

Prof. Seager will review the history of exoplanet searches and explain how Kepler used the transit technique to make its discoveries. Then she'll take us behind the scenes for a look at Kepler's successor, the MIT-led Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which NASA plans to launch in March 2018 — just six months from now! TESS aims to study nearby stars, those bright enough and with enough photons for follow-up observations. You'll learn how much we can learn about these alien world just by studying their feeble light.

I'll be hosting this exciting presentation, and I hope you'll join me. It's $29.99 to participate (or to download afterward), but it will be well worth the cost. Click here to register, and I look forward to having you join us.

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