‘Science on Saturday’ lecture explores new view of distant worlds

Feb. 1, 2010

‘Science on Saturday’ lecture explores new view of distant worlds

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's (LLNL) popular "Science on Saturday" lecture series continues this Saturday, Feb. 6, at 9:30 and 11:15 a.m., when LLNL scientists Bruce Macintosh and Lisa Poyneer, along with Granada High School teacher Tom Shefler, present "Distant Worlds: Making Images of Other Solar Systems," at the Bankhead Theater, 2400 First St., Livermore.

Four hundred years ago, our view of everything changed as scientists such as Galileo proved that the Earth was not the center of the universe but instead orbits around our sun.

Fifteen years ago the world shifted again when the first planets were discovered orbiting other stars. Since then, more than 400 other worlds have been discovered, but almost all are invisible, seen only through their gravitational tug on their parent star.

Scientists and engineers are working together to build more advanced telescopes and equipment that are allowing us to study these worlds in greater and greater detail. One limit that has to be overcome is the Earth's atmosphere, which distorts and blurs everything we see. A new technique, adaptive optics, uses mirrors that change their shape 1,000 times a second to make ultra-sharp images from giant telescopes on the ground.

In 2008, using adaptive optics and the 10 meter W.M. Keck telescope in Hawaii, a LLNL team produced the first ever picture of another solar system, showing three giant planets as dim red dots 100,000 times fainter than the bright blue star they orbit. In the future, these techniques may even lead to an image with a pale blue dot circling a nearby star-- another Earth.

The Science on Saturday series of free lectures is geared for middle and high school students. Admission is free. Seating is on a first-come basis; there is no pre-registration. Directions, maps and a complete list of lectures are available at http://education.llnl.gov/sos/.

Science on Saturday is presented by LLNL's Science Education Program.

Founded in 1952, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (www.llnl.gov) is a national security laboratory that develops science and engineering technology and provides innovative solutions to our nation's most important challenges. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is managed by Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.