Surely everyone knows by now that the National Reconnaissance Office donated two large (2.4-m) telescopes to NASA, and nearly every UV-optical-infrared astronomer is thinking about how to use these. This is an astounding event, and while not strictly science per se, it has the ability to affect science to come. Read up on these, and what our NASA chiefs say about it, here and here .
See the presentations. by Paul Hertz and Alan Dressler to the Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics (CAA) on 4 June 2012. I was privileged to visit these telescopes recently, and was very impressed with hearing about the careful engineering that has gone into them.
However the topic of finding the money to pay for using these and other telescopes, including 4 space missions, was highlighted in the article “American physics dreams deferred”.
Exoplanet gravitational microlensing has given us a remarkable estimate, that there are, on average, about 1.6 planets per star in our galaxy, all based on 11 data points, but convincingly so. (link).
On a lighter note, there was a “Great Exoplanet Debate” at the astrobiology science conference, focusing on the search for habitable planets, as outlined
The transit of Venus across the Sun on 5-6 June received a lot of press coverage, which is good publicity for exoplanet science and astronomy in general, and of course an interesting connection between us and Captain James Cook, in his voyage to Tahiti in 1769. Two articles on the event are here
Most of us know that there is water of hydration in the rocks below our feet, but we may not have realized that it amounts to 25 times the water in all the oceans on Earth, an interesting tidbit in a book review.
Speaking of water, there is a new estimate that Mars may always have been too cold for liquid water to have existed on its surface, except for transient ice-melting events like meteor impacts, so searches for signs of life may have to dig deep below the surface where planetary heat may have allowed liquid water, described here
Kepler has discovered yet another phenomenon, this time a clear signature of a planet being evaporated by its star, leaving a trail of opacity that is clearly visible in the transit signal. See
Congratulations to Dave Charbonneau and Sara Seager for being awarded the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Prize in the physical sciences, (link) and to Lisa Kaltenegger for being awarded the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize (link).
Raindrops 2.7 billion years ago are the amazing topic of a paper showing that the air density on Earth at that time was probably close to today’s air density, which in turn makes it difficult to understand how the Earth survived the “faint young sun” paradox, since greenhouse gases are constrained by this data, all described here.
Congratulations to Geoff Bryden, Bill Danchi, Bertrand Mennesson, Karl Stapelfeldt, Alycia Weinberger, and Mark Wyatt for winning places on the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer Key Science Team for the detection of exozodiacal light, a crucial bit of knowledge that we will need for a future direct imaging mission for exoplanets, as announced here.
The Economist runs occasional exoplanet-related stories, the latest being on about Laurent Koechlin’s proposal to search for exoplanets using a giant Fresnel lens. (link).
Finally, congratulations to Geoff Marcy for taking on a new responsibility as the Watson and Marilyn Alberts chair at UC Berkeley, a position dedicated to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Geoff’s plan is to expand the radio SETI search to include an ability to detect laser flashes from civilizations around nearby stars. He says “I'm delighted about this generous chair, enabling the searches for technological civilizations in both the Galaxy
and other galaxies. We're searching in the optical and near-IR, both photometrically for infrared laser pulses and spectroscopically for laser emission lines in the optical. These projects are long-shots, but they're inexpensive, and explore new parameter space.” Andrew Howard is collaborating on the project, drawing on his previous experience with optical SETI with Paul Horowitz at Harvard. See articles here and here