Lecture Weds 8th January 2020 – Dr Chris Watson, QUB

This talk is titled  “The Terra Hunting Experiment – finding Alien Earthlike Worlds”

Despite having found more than 4,000 planets around ‘normal’ stars since the initial Nobel prize-winning discovery in 1995, no true Earth-like planet (or Earth-analog) has yet been found. While Earth-size, Earth-mass, and Earth-density planets have been discovered, these are all in tight orbits around their host stars (e.g. Kepler-78b was, at the time of discovery, the exoplanet most similar to Earth in size and mass, but has a ‘year’ lasting just over 8 hours!).
Why have we yet to find an Earth-analog? I will review both the technical and astrophysical challenges of finding another ‘Earth’ with humanity’s current level of technical and scientific expertise. This will naturally explain how this spawned the ‘Terra Hunting Experiment’ – a bold 10-year long intense survey of a select number (~40) solar-type stars to look for the Doppler-wobble signature of an Earth-like planet orbiting in an Earth-like orbit around a solar-type star. Might this reveal, for the first time, some potential homes of E.T.? I’ll finish by providing my own personal opinion on the prospects for the discovery of life – the ultimate goal of such work.

I am a senior lecturer and head of the extrasolar planet research group, as well as Deputy Head of the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen’s University Belfast. I arrived here in October 2008, following on from a PPARC Postdoctoral fellowship held at Sheffield University (working on binary stars). Now my main interests are in developing methods of reducing the impact of stellar inhomogenities (such as starspots and convection) on the detection and characterisation of extra-solar planets. I am also interested in how hot Jupiters ended up where they are, as well as characterising their atmospheres (QUB was only the 3rd group to recover a z-band secondary eclipse, for example). My activities include involvement in a number of international projects, and I am one of the UK Co-Investigators of the HARPS-N project, as well as Co-Principal Investigator of the Next Generation Transit Survey (NGTS). My research has attracted major national and international press attention, with several global press releases, documentaries in the UK and further afield (such as Australia) with typical viewership measured in the millions. I have also written ‘expert’ articles for the BBC News, as well as numerous interviews and press articles across the UK/Ireland and globally.

Doors open about 7.15pm. There is free parking available on the campus in the evenings. Admission Free, including light refreshments. We are located in the Bell Theatre, Department of Mathematics and Physics, QUB – Details here….. With thanks to the Astrophysics Research Centre, QUB, for assistance with this event. 

Note this is in a different Lecture Theatre in the Main QUB building opposite the Physics Dept – to the left from the end of the Car park QUB, 7.30pm

All welcome. Free admission, including light refreshments.

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