Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Potentially habitable exoplanet found

The star Gliese 581 hosts an Earth-size planet (foreground) that orbits in the star's habitable zone. Artwork by Lynette Cook. [from press release]

UC Santa Cruz
September 29, 2010
A proud day for UC Santa Cruz

We are thrilled to share some breaking news with you about research led by UC Santa Cruz astronomer Steven Vogt. At a press briefing in Washington, D.C., Steve's team just announced the discovery of what may be the first truly habitable planet outside our solar system.
The discovery of an Earth-sized planet where liquid water could exist on the surface has long been considered a major milestone for planet hunters. This breakthrough constitutes the first strong case for a planet that could sustain life, and it raises profound questions about the possible existence of billions of similar planets within our own Milky Way.
We congratulate Steve and his UCSC colleague, associate research scientist Eugenio Rivera, as well as Paul Butler at the Carnegie Institution of Washington and the rest of their team. This is another example of the discipline-transforming work led by UCSC researchers. We are very proud of their accomplishments.
To learn more about today's news, please read the campus press release.
George R. Blumenthal, Chancellor
Alison Galloway, Campus Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor

SETI lunch seminars: Wednesdays at noon

From the SETI Institute colloquium announcement. They are free and open to the public.

Please join us on Wednesday 29th of September at midday *at the Innovation Room on the 2nd Floor of the new SETI Headquarters at 189 N. Bernardo Ave, Mountain View* for a free public talk.

Upcoming talks:

  • Oct. 06 -- Margarita Marinova (Ames): "The Mars dichotomy: Brought to you by a mega impact"
  • Oct. 12 -- Ellen Howell (Cornell): "Arecibo Radar Observations of Near-Earth Asteroids"
  • Oct. 13 -- Nick Woolf (UofA): "A New Look at what Life is and How it Began"
  • Oct. 20 -- Chung-Pei Ma (UCB): "Dark Matter: The Other Universe"
  • Oct. 27 -- Seth Shostak (SETI): "New Search Strategies for SETI"
  • Nov. 03 -- Gary Glatzmaier (UCSC): "Computer simulations of convection and magnetic field generation in planets"
  • Nov. 10 -- Claudio Maccone (IAA) "Statistical Equation for Habitables (SEH) and the Statistical Fermi Paradox"
  • Nov. 17 -- Mark Clampin (Goddard): "Status of the James Webb Telescope and its Capabilities for Exoplanet Science"
  • Dec. 01 -- Bart De Pontieu (LMCO): "IRIS: a new window on the physics of the solar interface region"
  • Dec. 08 -- P. Buford Price (UCB): "Microbial Dark Matter in Glacial Ice and implications for Martian life"
  • Jan. 05 -- David Morrison (SETI): "Near Earth Asteroids as Targets for Human and Robotic Exploration"
  • Jan. 19 -- Rob French (SETI): "The Evolution of Saturn's F Ring"  
  • Mar. 09 -- Heidi B. Hammel (SSI): "Planetary Observations with the James Webb Space Telescope"

YouTube videos of recent lectures:

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Path Optimization at Burning Man

Let A and B be any two points on the playa on the same lettered street between which a traveler wishes to travel, assuming he/she cannot cut across the blocks. Let r = distance from the Man to Esplanade, and theta = the angle formed by A-Man-B, and b = distance from the Esplanade to A or B.

2*r*sin(theta/2) + 2b = distance traversed if the traveller first goes up to Esplanade and then back out.
2*pi*(r+b)(theta/2pi) = distance traversed if the traveler moves along the lettered street.
// theta is in radians

r/b = [ 1 - (2/theta) ] / [ (2/theta) sin (theta/2) - 1]

Note that the actual values of r and be are irrelevant, only their ratio. For a given theta, we have a ratio of r&b that makes it equidistant to cut to the Esplanade versus traveling along the circle to your destination. For a given r/b, this is the minimal angle at which it is worth it to cut to Esplanade and back.

Of course, this is assuming your goal is to minimize distance travelled b/c your feet are hurting due to forgetting to wear socks, and not to maximize your adventures, whose general solution is more of a random walk. Other fun things to solve for: path optimization between A and B if the distance between them and the Man is different (that is, they live on different streets), or if you want to ensure at least one set of port-o-potties is on the route.

And if you, reader, are the pirates we had that swordfight with ... Ninjas forever!