To open the meeting our President Mark Phillips gave us the usual highlights of the upcoming Society programme. Adding to the good news, the Society grew by no less than eight new members, taking membership to a record 169 !
Our main talk was from Professor Beth Biller of Edinburgh University who talked to us about “Weird New Worlds”.
Professor Biller’s primary area of research is the direct imaging of Exoplanets, which she likened to taking a picture of a firefly from Edinburgh as it flew round a lighthouse in Dublin !
After outlining a brief timeline for exoplanet research, especially the amazing growth in the number of confirmed exoplanets to over 5,000 today, since the first detection in 1995. Beth then went over the various techniques for discovering the presence of exoplanets including radial velocity, micro lensing and the use of transits, which is currently the dominant method.
Beth also explained the various types of exoplanets we are discovering and the importance of their distance from their host star, especially in the hunt for potentially habitable worlds. Most planets so far found seem to be very very different from the planets in our own solar system – weird new worlds indeed !
Direct imaging of exoplanets, which will allow transit spectroscopy ( characterisation of exoplanet atmospheres), should reveal huge amounts of information about these alien worlds, and also just getting pictures of the such planets, will be given a huge boost in the coming years by the recent successful launch of the James Webb Space telescope and the development of the Extremely Large Telescope. We might even get clues as to the “weather” on exoplanets and their rotational periods !
As usual we finished with a very thorough presentation of “The Sky in May” from Alan Pickup.