Autumn 2020 Lunchtime Meetings
This semester each lunchtime meeting will feature a different theme, and with each meeting being headed up by a member of a different School, the series promises to be a real mind-expanding experience for all of us! The schedule is as follows:
21 September 2020, School of International Relations: Adam Bower, "Power, norms, and law in space security governance"
12 October 2020, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences: Eva Stüecken, "Limits of knowledge in Earth Sciences and beyond"
9 November 2020, School of Physics and Astronomy: Martin Dominik, "Natural resource in a finite universe"
14 December 2020, School of Biology & School of Philosophical, Anthropological, and Film Studies: V. Anne Smith and Ben Sachs, "The Value of Exoplanet Life"
All meetings are from 1-2pm and will be held on MS Teams.
Centre for Exoplanet Science Book Club
The aim of the book club is to read and discuss books that feature thought-provoking portrayals of exoplanet environments (and in a lot of cases also extraterrestrial life). In discussing these works, we can learn from each other as well as from the books – they might even give us some ideas for our own research.
All members are welcome to join at any time! We wil be meeting about once every two months in the evening.
The first book we are reading is 'Aurora' by Kim Stanley Robinson (2015). It is about a generation ship traveling to Tau Ceti, and is narrated by the ship's Artificial Intelligence.
Our first meeting is scheduled for Tuesday 17 November 2020, 6-7pm on MS Teams. If you have questions please contact Emma Puranen.
Scottish Exoplanet / Brown Dwarf Autumn Meeting 2020
The meeting was held online, on Wednesday 21 October 2020, from 13.00 to 16.00, full details and the programme are posted on the website.
PhD students, postdocs and faculty presented short talks (~10 minutes for PhD students and postdocs, ~5 minutes for faculty).
The goal for our meeting is to facilitate discussion and collaboration between Scotland-based exoplanet and brown dwarf researchers, and to provide a platform for junior community members to present results.
"Phosphine gas in the cloud decks of Venus"
Professor Jane Greaves (Cardiff University) introduced her recent Nature paper on 'Phosphine gas in the cloud decks of Venus'.
Additional publications from the group of authors involved are:
'The Venusian Lower Atmosphere Haze as a Depot for Desiccated Microbial Life: A Proposed Life Cycle for Persistence of the Venusian Aerial Biosphere' by Seager et al. 2020, accepted for publication by Astrobiology,
and 'Phosphine on Venus Cannot be Explained by Conventional Processes' by Bains et al. 2020, submitted to Astrobiology.
Further information can be found in The Guardian article by Charles Cockell "If we don't find life on planets like Venus, doesn't it make us that bit more special?" and a YouTube discussion by Dr Paul B. Rimmer on "Life on Venus? | What the Phosphine Discovery Really Means".
Monday 5 October 2020, 13:00h on MS Teams
Handbook for Time Travellers
A book co-authored by Aleks Scholz appeared on the German market. The 'Handbook for Time Travellers' is subtitled: 'From the dinosaurs to the fall of the Berlin wall' and was written with German writer Kathrin Passig and published by Rowohlt Berlin.
Handbook for Time Travellers is a travel guide for the past, assuming that time travel is not only possible, but as easy as travelling by train or aeroplane, although it may involve parallel universes, wormholes, and technology that hasn't yet been invented.
The book discusses a variety of potential travel destinations, ranging from the beginning of the Universe through the Pleistocene over medieval Iceland to East Germany. It is a crossover between history, natural history and science. As fictional travel advice, it might be a useful book for this very unusual stay-at-home year.
The book even beat Stephen Hawking in the category Astronomy, at least for a day.
StA-CES Summer 2020 mini conference
The StA-CES Summer 2020 mini conference took place on 23 June 2020, 14-17:00h, and on 6 July 2020, 15-17:00h on MS Teams.
We ended the day with a glass of good-something in a "Pint of Science & Arts" in MS Teams (18-19+h).
23 June 2020, 14-17:00h on MS Teams
Arola Moreras Marti: "Volcanic controls on the microbial habitability of Mars-analogue hydrothermal environments" (25+5 min)
Patrick Barth: "Effect of high-energy radiation on atmospheric chemistry in giant gas planets" (20+5 min)
Tom Wilson: "A CHEOPS Update: Revealing the Pictures of Exoplanetary Systems through Precise Photometry" (25+5 min)
Ben Sachs: "Why do we want research participants to sign a consent form?" (20+5 min)
Oliver Herbort: "Atmospheres of rocky exoplanets, stabilities of clouds and liquid water" (20+5 min)
Peter Woitke: "Three types of exoplanet atmospheres: implications for biosignatures" (20+5 min)
Emily Finer: "Beyond interplanetary travel: exoplanets in Soviet Russian diafilm from the 1970s" (20+5 min)
• Pint of Science & Art 23 June 2020, 18-19h: 1-slide lightning talks.
• Dominic Samra: "Modelling Irregular Cloud Particles through Hollow Spheres"
• Michele Rinaldi: "Relationships between Fluid – Rock Interaction and Carbon Speciation: a Computational Study"
• Nicole Schanche: "Two New Hot Jupiters"
6 July 2020, 15-17:00h on MS Teams
Eva Stüeken: "Demystifying the role of redox reactions in planetary science" (15:00h)
Jianxun Shen: "Nitrogen cycling and biosignatures in a hyperarid Mars analogue environment" (15:30h)
Christiane Helling: "What we know about exoplanets and their atmospheres" (16:00h)
Martin Dominik: "UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science" (16:30h)
• Pint of Science & Art 6 July 2020, 18-19h:
• David Lewis: "Differences in cloud formation on giant-gas planets and ultra-hot Jupiters"
• Mark Claire: "Discussion about classification of exoplanets"
"Geology determines the outer edge of the Habitable Zone"
Seminar talk at the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences
Speaker: Prof Raymond Pierrehumbert, University of Oxford
Wednesday 15 Apr 2020: 13:00h, Forbes Room, 2nd floor, Irvine Building.
Refreshments are provided from 12:30h in the Forbes Room for the purpose of social mingling. All are welcome!
Cancelled due to Covid-19 lockdown.
Scottish Exoplanet / Brown Dwarf Spring Meeting 2020
The Scottish Exoplanet / Brown Dwarf Spring Meeting 2020 will be held on 28 April 2020 at the University of St Andrews, Gateway Seminar Room 3, starting at 10:30h, and concluding at 17:00h. Doors open at 10:00h.
In this meeting we want to facilitate discussions and collaborations between Scotland-based exoplanet and brown dwarf researchers, and want to provide a platform for junior community members to present results.
There is no registration fee. Coffee and lunch will be provided.
To celebrate the 10th of our SEBD events, we are announcing a SEBD logo competition. Get creative! — Submit your logo suggestion to us by 30 March 2020. We then will invite the SEBD community to vote for the SEBD logo and the winner will be announced during the meeting on 28 April 2020 in St Andrews. Looking forward to your submissions!
Cancelled due to Covid-19 lockdown.
StA-CES lunch time meetings in spring 2020
We will have four lunch time meetings for our Centre for Exoplanet Science in spring 2020:
3 February 2020, 13-14:00h: "Sci-Fi planet(s)"
Introduce a Sci-Fi planet! Do most SciFi authors have a narrow, Earth-centric view on exoplanets? Are their planets as biodiverse as our Earth?
2 March 2020, 13-14:00: "The Inverse Problem"
27 April 2020, 13-14:00h, Gateway Boardroom
18 May 2020, 13-14:00h, Gateway Boardroom
All meetings will take place in the Gateway Boardroom, North Haugh. Catering will be provied. You are all very welcome to join us.
Last two meetings were cancelled due to Covid-19 lockdown.
PhD Scholarship in Literature and Data Science
"Turning Science Fiction into Data Science"
Applications were invited for a fully funded PhD position at the University of St Andrews Centre for Exoplanet Science. The project is jointly conducted and supervised at the School of Modern Languages, the School of Biology and the School of Physics & Astronomy.
Deadline: 16 January 2020
Details: PhD position advert
StA-CES lunch time meetings in autumn 2019
The following dates were settled on for the Autumn 2019 lunch time meetings for our Centre for Exoplanet Science:
14 October 2019, 13-14:00h, Gateway Boardroom
4 November 2019, 13-14:00, Gateway Boardroom
25 November 2019, 13-14:00h, The Forbes Room, 3rd floor, Irvine Building
We used the 14 Oct 2019 as welcome meeting for everybody and for new faces in particular, including a couple of updates. The second meeting was thought to be an introduction for an idea of publishing review-like overview articles as a Centre effort in 'Elements'. We discussed this idea amongst all of us. (Now even more relevant with this year's Nobel Prize in Physics! )
We had our final lunch time event of the Martinmas semester on Monday 25 November. Of course, lunch was provided. The theme was open: It was a session to eat together and use it as a platform for members in attendance to voice ideas, raise questions, and to allow us all to determine the direction our centre is going to take in 2020.
The St Andrews Centre for Exoplanet Science celebrated the Nobel Prize in Physics 2019
The St Andrews Centre for Exoplanet Science held a celebration on 30 October 2019 for the Nobel Prize in Physics 2019, 50 percent of which was given to the area of exoplanet research. We organised this event jointly with our student organisations, the Astrosoc and the PhySoc, and with our School Office.
This was an occasion to show-case our local achievements in exoplanet science and in building an interdisciplinary community as part of our Centre. The event started with a move of location from Theatre C to Theatre B in Physics as we welcomed about 140 people. Andrew Cameron (Physics & Astronomy) introduced the Nobel Prize topic, Eva Stüecken (Earth & Environmental Sciences) took us through the ideas of the origin of life on Earth, and Emily Finer (Modern Languages) enchanted us with how Russian literature served as a means of science education in the 1920s.
The student sponsored pizza was eaten in less than 10 mins, and a nice selection of beers and carrot sticks helped to sustain our excitement. We thank everybody for coming along, and we are particular grateful to our student community for their engagement and to Lesley Aitken who made sure everything went smoothly catering-wise.
The St Andrews Centre for Exoplanet Science celebrated the Nobel Prize in Physics 2019
The Nobel Prize in Physics 2019 was awarded, to one half, to research in exoplanet discovery. Given that we have three planet hunters of the first hours amongst us (Andrew C. Cameron, Martin Dominik, Keith Horne), we invited everybody to celebrate with us this success and recognition for exoplanet research on the 30 October 2019 (Wednesday week 7), 17–19:00h, Theatre C in Physics.
We had a talk on the Nobel Prize theme (Andrew C. Cameron, Astronomy, 30 min), on the Origin of Life (Eva Stueecken, Geoscience, 15 min) and a talk on SciFi in Modern Languages (Emily Finer, Modern Languages, 15 min).
The Astrosoc and PhySoc were enthusiastically supporting us in this. Lots of people came along and joined us for some insight, a beer + nibbles and a bit of celebratory cake.
The Nobel Prize in Physics 2019 was awarded "for contributions to our understanding of the evolution of the universe and Earth's place in the cosmos" with one half to James Peebles "for theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology", the other half jointly to Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz "for the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star."
Mayor and Queloz have been recognised for their joint discovery in 1995 of the first exoplanet 50 light years away in the constellation of Pegasus. The planet, 51 Pegasi b, is a gaseous ball about 150 times more massive than the Earth and with a scorching surface temperature of 1000C.
Press release and Popular Science Background, Nature article with quote from Christiane Helling.
"Impacts and Habitability on Exoplanets"
Paul Rimmer, University of Cambridge, UK
Recent geological evidence suggests that the early Earth suffered a single impact from a moon-sized object about 4.3 billion years ago. This impact would have transformed the early atmosphere into a transient Miller-Urey atmosphere, dominated by H2, CO, CH4 and N2 / NH3, an ideal environment for prebiotic chemistry. It is likely that Mars also experienced a single large impact early on, transforming its early atmosphere as well.
Some exoplanets may be following a similar path to Earth and Mars, suffering one large impact and then several smaller impacts, leaving behind molecular signatures of these events. Results are taken from impact simulation experiments, and applied to atmospheric chemistry and radiative transfer models to predict the molecular signatures of these events. It was shown that acetylene (C2H2) is produced effectively by impacts, and not by photochemistry, in potentially detectable quantities on impact-transformed planets.
Astronomy Lunchtime Talks: Tuesday 24 Sep 2019, 1pm, room 222.
StA-CES Summer meetings: 24 July and 23 August 2019
We wanted to provide time and space for knowledge exchange during these two meetings. The aim was furthermore to allow us to progress beyond the conversational level of understanding. Coffee & lunch breaks served as discussion base. A summary of meeting one (24 July) was provided at the beginning of meeting two (23 August). Our conversations will be continued during our StA-CES lunch time meetings in the autumn.
24 July 2019 Wednesday, 9‐15:00h, room 301, Physics & Astronomy
• Talks by: V. Anne Smith, Sami Mikhail, Paul Savage, Peter Woitke, Katherine Hawley, Martin Dominik, Christiane Helling, Claire Cousins, Eleanor Mare, Nicole Schanche, Dominic Samra, Oliver Herbort, Bethan Gregory.
23 August 2019 Friday, 9‐15:00h, room 233, Physics & Astronomy
• Summary of 24 July 2019 meeting
• Talks by: Ben Sachs, Keith Horne, Daniel Knight, Emily Finer, Peter Woitke, Martin Dominik, Christiane Helling, Derek Ball, Fran Bartolić, Elliott Fogg, James Hitchcock, Oliver Herbort, Dominic Samra, Patrick Barth, Victoria Graham, Anuj Puri.
link to Interdisciplinary Dictionary
"A message from afar" – Exhibit at Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition
Martin Dominik was leading the exhibition "A message from afar" at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, 1-7 July 2019, London.
The team involved Ben Sachs, Derek Ball, Oliver Herbort, Dominic Samra, and Anuj Puri, who debated with the public on whether we should communicate with extra-terrestrial civilisations.
Reactions in the Press:
The Guardian "How should we respond to alien contact? Scientists ask the public"
Vox "If aliens call, what should we do? Scientists want your opinion."
Fox News "What would you do if we found aliens? survey asks"
Express "Alien life search: What will actually happen when NASA makes contact?"
Newsweek "Should we search for alien life? Scientists ask the public if it's worth it"
StA-CES lunchtime meetings
We continued our series of informal lunches this Spring. With the continued desire to learn more from each other and identify synergies, each lunch has had a "theme", and we all contributed to a discussion on the theme, sharing research practices in our various fields and/or asking questions of others.
Our lunch time meetings during the Spring Term 2019 were:
4 March — Getting data/sources (What is your data? What techniques do you use to obtain/collect it?)
8 April — Statistical models (significance testing, e.g., regression, mixed models, etc.)
13 May — Mathematical models (e.g., chemical equilibrium, differential equations, etc.)
10 June — Machine Learning/AI (e.g., classification, optimisation, etc.)
The Lunches took place in the Seminar Room of the Centre for Biological Diversity (in the Dyers Brae House between Queen's Terrace and Greenside Place, beside the Kinnessburn), from 13:00-14:00h.
Katherine Hawley has been interview by a Dutch journalist
Prof Katherine Hawley has been interviewed by Dutch journalist Marjolijn van Heemstra for her article "Who owns space? Good and evil beyond our Earth's atmosphere" (original title: "Van wie is de ruimte? Goed en kwaad aan de andere kant van de dampkring") in De Correspondent.
(10 May 2019)
"Exploring the outer solar system: A window into our past"
Marc W. Buie
Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado
Following the successful flyby of Pluto in 2015, New Horizons continued out into the Kuiper Belt to pursue its mission of explorations of the outer reaches of the solar system. The next chapter in this exploration is being written through the encounter with (486958) 2014MU69, nicknamed "Ultima Thule" that occurred on 2019 Jan 1. This phase of the mission was very challenging but worth all of that effort as we see the new data continuing to be received from the spacecraft. This chapter that New Horizons is now writing would not have been possible without broad support from the community and formidible ground-based and space-based telescopes we have at our disposal. However, there is a special synergy between New Horizons, the Hubble Space Telescope, and ESA's Gaia Mission and the people behind these missions.
Among many spectacular discoveries in the solar system and his research on Pluto, Dr Marc Buie was involved in the discovery of Ultima Thule which has been quoted as "seeing a physical representation of the beginning of planetary formation, frozen in time". His presentation provides a glimpse into the work that began in 2004 and culminating in the first ever flyby of a cold-classical Kuiper Belt object. He presents a summary of what it took to get there as well as an update on the current scientific results from the mission.
Dr Marc Buie's visit of the Centre for Exoplanet Science is sponsored by School of Physics & Astronomy and the Centre for Exoplanet Science. Physics & Astronomy Colloquium: Friday 19 April 2019, 10:00h, Lecture Theatre C
14 April 2019
'Exo-Elements' at Edinburgh Science Festival, Beth Biller (Edinburgh Centre for Exoplanet Science) lead a panel discussion, incl. Christiane Helling.
"Spinning Space Diamonds"
Prof Jane Greaves, University of Cardiff, UK
A very small number of planet-forming discs around young stars host hydrogenated nano-diamonds. These nano-particles were discovered in meteorites on Earth in the 1930s, and their infrared signatures were first found in space environments in 1980. The origins of the particles are obscure, even in the solar system, and most astronomers have been happily oblivious of the whole topic. I will discuss an unexpected outcome of our observations made to track grain growth in these proto-planetary discs, where the only three systems known to host nano-diamonds also showed anomalous microwave emission. This serendipitous result has led to a well-evidenced carrier-particle for this AME (after twenty years of debate), using the well characterised environments of circumstellar discs.
Physics & Astronomy Colloquium: Friday 12 April 2019, 10:00h, Lecture Theatre C
"Building Planets - A Journey along 40 Orders of Magnitude"
Til Birnstiel, LMU München, Germany
Building planets is a dirty business. First of all, planets are made out of the dirt we call interstellar dust. Secondly, the physics involved is not "clean" in a sense that neither the processes involved, nor the initial conditions are known. Solid state physics, radiation transport, gas phase and surface chemistry, magnetic fields and hydrodynamic instabilities at high Reynolds numbers are just some of the aspects that are certainly involved in growing the sub-micrometer sized interstellar dust by 40 orders of magnitude in mass to a full-fledged planet. Given this complexity and dynamic range, it is perhaps not surprising, that the formation processes of planets are still poorly understood, even though thousands of planets beyond our solar system are known today.
Some of the biggest mysteries of planet formation lie in the early stages: growing the asteroid-sized building blocks of planets. Recent years have seen a revolution in observing capabilities delivering data of unprecedented detail and sensitivity. They have partially confirmed our theoretical expectations, partially surprised us. In this lecture, I will discuss some of the basic concepts and the problems we are facing from the theoretical side. I will outline how they might be overcome and will show how recent observational break-throughs revolutionize this exciting field, bringing us closer to solving the puzzle of planet formation.
Physics & Astronomy Colloquium: Friday 5 April 2019, 10:00h, Lecture Theatre C
St Andrews Observatory Open Night - 16 March 2019
The traditional Open Night at the Observatory was held Saturday 16 March 2019, 18:00 to 21:00h. An evening under the stars with the resident astronomers, featuring Scotland's largest telescope, and a talk series organised by the Centre for Exoplanet Science.
Some of the questions that the children audience asked us were very interesting:Artist Tim Fitzpatrick revealed the next step in our ongoing project to turn the Twin Dome into a melting pot for art and science. Please visit the Facebook page for details.
Where do we go when the Sun stops shining?
Why are planets round although they form from fluffy dust particles?
Why do we have gas planets?
Why do planets have different temperatures?
"Publishing models, assessment, and open science"
Centre for Exoplanet Science, School of Physics & Astronomy, University of St Andrews
The size of benefits arising from conducting research crucially depends on the alignment of incentives with the genuine goals of the research endeavour, while communication is essential for research to unfold its value. Both publishing models and research evaluation are core elements for developing frameworks for "open science". What kind of research culture do we want, and how it can be fostered? The Global Young Academy recently released a report on this topic to explicitly encourage joined-up thinking between innovators who currently address various aspects of the global research ecosystem, which was never designed for purpose. Researchers have repeatedly proven their creativity and know-how in developing technology for implementing new models for research communication and collaboration, including the sharing of data. How can they actively contribute to ongoing transformation processes rather than accepting practices that do not make sense?
Physics & Astronomy Colloquium: Friday 15 March 2019, 10:00h, Lecture Theatre C
Centre members Katherine Hawley and Ben Sachs have been awarded a workshops grant from the Royal Society of Edinburgh, to investigate ethical issues arising from exoplanet science.
Workshop III: "Trust and Sensation in the Public Communication of Exoplanet Science" was organised by Katherine Hawley and took place 8 January 2019.
There is, unsurprisingly, huge public interest in exoplanets, much of it tied to the anticipation of discovering extraterrestrial life. Yet there is a risk in focusing public conversation through the lens of ET, not least because it is easy to slide from 'life' to 'intelligent life'. Scientists need to communicate responsibly, but this cannot mean that they need to be as cautious as is required for a dry journal article. How should they strike the right balance?
This topic raises issues of professional ethics for scientists. But it also raises wider issues about trust in science, the nature and importance of public engagement, and the challenge of harnessing public enthusiasm without risking scientific integrity. Exoplanet science is a crucible for these questions, not least because conspiracy-style thinking seems prevalent in public perceptions of the search for extra-terrestrial life.
This workshop brought together scientists, philosophers, and media/ engagement professionals to discuss these issues, aiming to formulate questions for future work. Speakers included Duncan Forgan, Martin Dominik, Katherine Hawley, Mhairi Stewart our public engagement officer, Stephen John (University of Cambridge), plus Jennifer Whyte and Gwenan Roberts of the BBC, who explained their approach to making science programming.
SUPA Distinguished Visitor – Rosaly Lopes
Claire Cousins (Earth and Environmental Sciences) and Christiane Helling (Physics and Astronomy) had been awarded funding from the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance (SUPA) for Dr Rosaly Lopes, NASA JPL, to visit as a SUPA Distinguished Visitor.
Dr Rosaly Lopes joined the St Andrews Center for Exoplanet Science on the 7 January 2019 as part of her participation in the SEES volcano workshop that took place that week. Rosaly visited the School of Earth and Environmental Science in the morning and the School of Physics and Astronomy in the afternoon on the 7 Jan 2019.
Rosaly kindly agreed to give a 20-30 mins summary about her work on volcanoes in the solar system during our StA-CES journal club on Monday, 7 Jan 2019 (14:00h, room 222 in Physics). There had been room for discussion and questions afterwards. We had more time for discussion and to introduce her a little to our work, too, in a follow-on meeting 15:00-16:00h.
In the evening of the same day at 18:00h, Rosaly gave a public talk at the Dundee Science Centre.
This computer-generated view of the surface of Venus shows lava flows from the volcano Sapas Mons that extend hundreds of miles across fractured plains. Credit: NASA/JPL
St Andrews Observatory Open Night – 1 December 2018
The traditional Open Night at the observatory was held on Saturday 1 December 2018, 6 to 9 pm, the day after St Andrews Day: An evening under the stars with the resident astronomers, featuring Scotland’s largest telescope, a talk series organised by the Centre for Exoplanet Science, and the re-opening of the Twin Dome with artist Tim Fitzpatrick.
All welcome, entry free. Please check the Facebook page for more information.
StA-CES sponsored visit of Steve Vance
Public talk on 23 Nov 2018, 18:00h, School 3 (The Quad): "Exploring Icy Ocean Worlds in the Solar System and Beyond".
Steve is an astrobiologist and planetary scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and will talk about his research into oceans on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and beyond. He will describe plans by NASA and other space agencies to explore these mysterious worlds and look for signs of life.
Science talk on 22 Nov 2018, 13:00h, Irvine Lecture Theatre (Earth & Environmental Sciences): "Geophysical Investigations of the Habitability of Icy Ocean Worlds".
Abstract: This seminar will explore the structures of icy ocean worlds, and pathways to exploring them with robotic spacecraft in the coming decades. Geophysical measurements can reveal the structures and thermal states of icy ocean worlds. The interior density, temperature, sound speed, and electrical conductivity thus characterize their habitability. We explore the variability and correlation of these parameters using 1-D internal structure models. We invoke thermodynamic consistency using available thermodynamics of aqueous MgSO4, NaCl (as seawater), and NH3; pure water ice phases I, II, III, V, and VI; silicates; and any metallic core that may be present. Model results suggest, for Europa, that combinations of geophysical parameters might be used to distinguish an oxidized ocean dominated by MgSO4 from a more reduced ocean dominated by NaCl. In contrast with Jupiter's icy ocean moons, Titan and Enceladus have low-density rocky interiors, with minimal or no metallic core. The low-density rocky core of Enceladus may comprise hydrated minerals or anhydrous minerals with high porosity. Cassini gravity data for Titan indicate a high tidal potential Love number (k2 >0.6), which requires a dense internal ocean (𝜌ocean > 1 200 kg m-3) and icy lithosphere thinner than 100 km. In that case, Titan may have little or no high-pressure ice, or a surprisingly deep water-rock interface more than 500 km below the surface, covered only by ice VI. Ganymede's water-rock interface is the deepest among known ocean worlds, at around 800 km. Its ocean may contain multiple phases of high-pressure ice, which will become buoyant if the ocean is sufficiently salty. Callisto's interior structure may be intermediate to those of Titan and Europa, with a water-rock interface 250 km below the surface covered by ice V but not ice VI.
"Is our solar system unique? – Is that why we are here?"
Uffe Gråe Jørgensen, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen
There are 10 billion Earth-like exoplanets in our Galaxy, but very few planetary systems like ours. It is likely that the full configuration of our planetary system was required for intelligent life to develop on Earth, and if this is true then we may be very alone in the universe. In a few years we will for the first time in human history be able to observe if there is life (to be seen as a local decrease in entropy) on the nearest Earth-like exoplanets. It will require advanced planetary atmospheric modelling to understand what we will see. Are we ready for the surprises that may await us?
Lunchtime Talk: Tuesday 20 November 2018, 13:00h, Room 222 (PandA)
StA-CES lunchtime meetings
Our lunch time meetings during the Autumn Term 2018 were:
17 September 13:00-14:00h, School of Physics & Astronomy, room 233.
29 October 13:00-14:00h, Physics Staff Common Room.
26 November 13:00-14:00h, Physics Staff Common Room.
Following discussions at our 'away day', we use this semester's Exoplanet lunch meetings to discuss potential project ideas, bringing together possible collaborators in smaller groups. We start the meeting with 5-minute (maximum!) introductions to a couple of project ideas, then we can all have lunch (provided) and split into smaller groups to discuss those projects, or just to socialise. This doesn't need to be a 'proper talk', no slides please, just pick one of the topics and remind us what might be interesting about it.
RSE workshops"Environmental Ethics and Value in the Age of Exoplanets" (6 October 2018, Ben Sachs, St Andrews)
We will be working towards an essay that lays out the central problems of environmental ethics relating to space science and exploration and outlines how people from different disciplines can work together on answering them.
Jacob Haqq-Misra (Blue Marble Space Institute of Science)
Tony Milligan (Theology & Religious Studies, KCL)
Charles Cockell (Astrobiology, University of Edinburgh)
For more information, visit the workshop's webpage.
This interdisciplinary workshop brings together theologians, philosophers of religion, and moral philosophers to explore the potential impact of the discovery of extra-terrestrial life on our contemporary views about the existence or nature of God, the badness of human extinction, and the scale of our cosmic importance. Speakers have been invited to address the following thought experiment: 'Suppose you woke up tomorrow to learn that conclusive evidence of extra-terrestrial life had been discovered. How would this affect your thinking on the topics in philosophy or theology that you are most interested in? Would it matter whether the discovery concerned extra-terrestrial life in general as opposed to intelligent life?'
For more information, visit the workshop's webpage.
Dates: September 23-28, 2018
Venue: Les Houches Advanced School for Physics
Clouds and hazes have a fundamental impact on the physical structure and appearance of planetary atmospheres and even influence the habitability of earthlike planets. Recent years brought an abundance of data on clouds in exoplanets. In the school we will review physical models for cloud formation in Solar System planets, exoplanet observations, and laboratory studies.
Christiane Helling and Aubrey Zerkle are invited speakers.
StA-CES lunchtime meetings
StA-CES lunchtime meetings took place on a Monday once per month during lunchtime (13:00-14:00h). Each meeting started with one to two 10 mins slots about somebody's research which then smoothly merged into chatting and having lunch together. Lunch was provided.
The meeting dates for the Spring Term 2018 were:
19 Feb Annelies Mortier
30 April Paul Savage and Eleanor Mare
14 May Aubrey Zerkle and Duncan Forgan
18 June Andy Gardner and Martin Dominik
We have met in the Physics Staff Common room which is equipped with a projector and white boards, coffee machines and a water fountain.
StA-CES project discussion retreat, 20 June 2018, 9:30-12:30h, MUSA Learning Loft
The Scottish Exoplanet / Brown Dwarf Spring Meeting 2018 (SEBD 6) which has been held at the University of St Andrews on 26 April 2018 in the MUSA Learning Loft, St Andrews, 10:30h to 17:00h.
This was the sixth meeting in a series of bi-annual, informal meetings alternating between the University of St Andrews and the University of Edinburgh, and it focussed on Updates on space and ground-based facilities.
Ben Sachs lead a panel discussion at the Edinburgh International Science Festival on the topic of human-alien encounters, billed as a joint project of StA-CES and CEPPA, and which took place Thursday 5 April 2018.
With manned missions to Mars coming soon, and the increasingly frequent discovery of planets orbiting other stars in their habitable zone, a human encounter with alien life seems inevitable.
In this event hosted by Dr Ben Sachs, astrobiologist Dr Sarah Rugheimer, theologist Prof David Wilkinson, political theorist Dr Alasdair Cochrane and philosopher Prof Mark Coeckelbergh envisaged our ethical world turned upside down by a future encounter with an advanced alien species.
"Exoplanets: Humanity through the lens of the Universe"
Dr Christiane Helling
The Centre for Exoplanet Science brings together researchers from different disciplines to find out how planets form in different galactic environments, how their atmospheres evolve, and the relation between the evolutionary history of planets and the emergence of life. We are further interested in the moral, ethical and technical aspects of detecting existent or extinct extra-terrestrial life in distant exosystems, or within our own solar system, and the significance of such a discovery for our societies.
I will provide an overview about the kind of research that the members of the University of St Andrews' Centre for Exoplanet Science are doing and why we think that "Understanding how unusual Earth is may help humanity to appreciate how special it is".
( 8 pm, Lecture Theatre B, School of Physics & Astronomy, North Haugh )
Claire Cousins was co-organising Session 1: Technologies and Missions.
Christiane Helling and Paul Savage organised Session 5: Building Solar Systems (planets, moons, exoplanets and impacts).
The event took place 3-5 December 2017 in Glasgow.
The Scottish Exoplanet / Brown Dwarf Autumn Meeting (SEBD5) which was held in the Rooftop Gallery at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh on 27 October 2017. This was the fifth meeting in a series of bi-annual, informal meetings alternating between the University of St Andrews and the University of Edinburgh.
"The Past is Key to the Present? Response of life to extreme events in Earth history"
Dr Aubrey Zerkle
One fundamental question in natural science is how life evolved on Earth. What we know beyond a reasonable doubt is that simple single-celled organisms evolved in the oceans greater than 3 billion years ago. What is becoming increasingly apparent is that the chemistry of the Earth surface (both the atmosphere and the oceans) has undergone dramatic changes since that first cell division occurred. What we now seek to understand is how the evolution of life has responded to, and in some cases driven, these changes in Earth surface environments. Understanding how life responded to global change in the past will help us to more clearly predict how life will respond to future change, for example that imposed by our rapidly warming climate. In addition, understanding how life evolved on this planet will inform our search for habitable planets in other solar systems.
( 8 pm, Lecture Theatre B, School of Physics & Astronomy, North Haugh )
Astronomy & Geophysics, Volume 58, Issue 6, 1 December 2017, pp. 6.22–6.23
Duncan Forgan, Lotta Purkamo, Ashley Watkins: "Cooking up exoplanet collaboration"
The authors relate what lessons were learned by kick-starting interdisciplinary collaboration with cake.
Cake & Cognition
A lunchtime discussion series on our exploration of other planets and the search for Life
What does it mean for a planet to be "Earthlike"? How can we search for extraterrestrial life (or intelligent life) if we can't agree on a definition? Is it right to explore our Solar System's planets even if we risk contaminating and destroying their environment?
The astrophysicists, geoscientists, philosophers and social anthropologists at the St Andrews Centre for Exoplanet Science will be tackling these difficult questions and more in their "Cake & Cognition" lunchtime discussion series during May - June 2017.
Wed 31 May: What does Earth-like mean? (Venue: Byre Theatre, 1pm)
Wed 7 June: What is Life? (Venue: Byre Theatre, 1pm)
Wed 14 June: Why are we interested in other worlds? (School of Mathematics and Statistics, 1pm)
Wed 21 June: What is Intelligence? (School of Mathematics and Statistics, 1pm)
Wed 28 June: StA-CES Bake-off and Open Discussion (School of Mathematics and Statistics, 1pm) ( download the flyer )
The StA-CES is awarding a small grant to the best ad-hoc research proposal that emerges from these discussions. Short elevator pitches for each proposal will be given in week 5 (28th June), and the winner will be decided by democratic vote. Teams wishing to submit an ad-hoc proposal should send a request to any one of the Cake & Cognition Committee: Duncan Forgan, Lotta Purkamo, Ashley Watkins.
BBC TWO Horizon programme
The two episodes of BBC Horizon can be described as 'must see TV', because members of the Centre for Exoplanet Science appear in the these 2 instalments!
The episode broadcast on 16 May 2017 features Dr Duncan Forgan (School of Physics & Astronomy) and is entitled 'Strange Signals from Outer Space!'. The following week's instalment (23 May 2017) is featuring Dr Claire Cousins (School of Earth and Environmental Science) on the programme entitled 'Space Volcanoes'.
Dr David Brin "Life in the Universe"
6 April 2017 11am, BMS Lecture Theatre, North Haugh
Seminar sponsored by the Centre for Biological Diversity and the Centre for Exoplanet Science.
David Brin is a best-selling science fiction author whose work is closely tied to existing scientific knowledge, often addressing themes of environmental and biological relevance. He holds a PhD in astrophysics, and has published non-fiction work highlighting scientific theories for a broader audience.
"Sparkling clouds and the crackling of lightning in extrasolar planets"
Public talk by Christiane Helling in the winter series of the British Science Association during the Women in Science Festival in Dundee.
Thursday 16 March 2017, 7pm
D'Arcy Thompson Lecture Theatre,
University of Dundee
UK Exoplanet Community meeting 2017
Why is the most Earth-like planet not more like Earth?
Dr Sami Mikhail University of St Andrews
24 February 2017, 10 am, School of Physics & Astronomy
To find solar systems hosting habitable exoplanets with similar geological and environmental conditions to Earth, we first must understand what it takes for an Earth-like planet to develop into an inhospitable wasteland. To this end, Earth and Venus are an ideal natural experiment. For example, these two planets are colloquially referred to as sister planets because of their similar size and composition. However, their contrasting volcanology, atmospheric mass and chemistry, climate, and geomorphology are striking. In short, the Venusian atmosphere and surface contains five orders of magnitude less water than Earth and the average surface temperature on Venus is 460°C. In addition, Venus is a relatively flat planet, where only 2% of the surface is shows any appreciable topography. Earth, by contrast, has a wet and cold surface with a bimodal topography (e.g. mountain ranges and ocean basins). Suffice to say, these are not identical siblings.
SPERO network meeting
First meeting of the Scottish Planetary Science Network
22 February 2017, National Museum Scotland, Chambers St, Edinburgh.
This one-day meeting was aimed at those within Scottish institutes to showcase their planetary science research.
Winning Design of the Logo Competition
The Centre for Exoplanet Sciences had invited designs for a Logo reflecting the Centre's scientific aspirations and cross-disciplinary approach.
Participation was open to all undergraduate and postgraduate students from the University of St Andrews.
All suggestions were displayed during the Inaugural Event, and a public vote decided the winning design, which was created by Hannah Jacobs.
Inaugural Event 23 January 2017
The inaugural event to celebrate the opening of the St Andrews Centre for Exoplanet Science took place on Monday 23 January 2017.
We welcomed the Principal, Vice Principal of Research, the Master and the Heads of the Schools involved.
Professor Sally Mapstone, Principal of the University, gave the Opening Address and subsequently three 30 min introductory talks were held, followed by a coffee/networking session. The introductory talks outlined the broad visions(s) of the School of Physics & Astronomy, the School of Earth and Environmental Science and School of Philosophical, Anthropological and Film Studies with regards to exoplanet science and the wider aims of the Centre. The speakers were Dr Peter Woitke (Astronomy), Dr Sami Mikhail (Geoscience), and Prof Katherine Hawley (Philosophy).
A poster session where members of the Centre displayed their current research topics, lead into a buffet dinner with interesting and lively discussions. The day ended with a guided tour through the University of St Andrews Observatory by Dr Aleks Scholz and Prof A.C. Cameron.
→ Inaugural Event & Poster Session Programme
→ Press Release
The traditional St Andrews Open Night at the observatory went ahead on Saturday 26 November 2016, 6 - 9 pm.
Telescope tours, ask an astronomer, stargazing (weather permitting), children's activities, lectures ...
We had about 300 visitors over three hours, although the sky was cloudy. Many astronomers were there, supported by some of our undergraduates, which means there was a lot of time to talk and interact with individuals and small groups. The next open night will be in March 2017.