Astronomy Lunchtime Talks
Tuesday, 1-2 pm, room 222, Physics & Astronomy, North Haugh
Physics & Astronomy Colloquia
Friday, 10-11 am, Lecture Theatre C, Physics & Astronomy, North Haugh
SEES Seminars
Wednesday, 1-2 pm, room 310, Earth & Environmental Sciences, Irvine Building

StA-CES related talks:

23 Nov 2018  Katherine Hawley: "Trust & ethics in science communication", 10am, Physics Colloquium.
26 Nov 2018  Simon Hodkin: (title TBA), 10am, Physics Colloquium.
26 Jun 2018  Mark Marley: "The Promise of Exoplanet Direct Imaging with Next Generation Space Telescopes", 1pm, Astronomy Lunchtime Talks.
18 June 2018  StA-CES lunchtime meeting, 1pm, Physics Staff Common Room.
23 May 2018  Frederic Moynier: "Tracing Earth's late accretion history using HSE stable isotopes", 1pm, SEES Seminar.
14 May 2018  StA-CES lunchtime meeting, 1pm, Physics Staff Common Room.
30 Apr 2018  StA-CES lunchtime meeting, 1pm, Physics Staff Common Room.
23 Apr 2018  Dave Waltham: "Planetary Protection: The perfect cross disciplinary subject?", 1pm, Forbes Room, SEES.
18 Apr 2018  Mark Fox-Powell: title (Astrobiology) TBC, 1pm, SEES Seminar.
13 Apr 2018  Paul Palmer: "Retrieving chemical compositions in the solar system", 10am, Physics Colloquium.
6 Apr 2018  Athena Coustenis: "The icy moons of the gas giants as possible habitats", 10am, Physics Colloquium.
19 Feb 2018  StA-CES lunchtime meeting, 1pm, Physics Staff Common Room.
9 Feb 2018  Matteo Brogi: "Exoplanet atmospheres at high spectral resolution", 10am, Physics Colloquium.
2 Feb 2018  Christiane Helling: "Exoplanets: Humanity through the lens of the Universe", Evening Lecture, 8pm, Physics.
24 Jan 2018  Christiane Helling: "The element abundance challenge for exoplanets", 1pm, SEES Seminar.

Upcoming Events

for the St Andrews Centre for Exoplanet Science

StA-CES lunchtime meetings

StA-CES lunchtime meetings take place on a Monday once per month during lunchtime (13:00-14:00h). Each meeting starts with one to two 10 mins slots about somebody's research which will smoothly merge into chatting and having lunch together. Lunch will be provided.
The meeting dates for the Spring Term 2018 are:
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 will meet in the Physics Staff Common room which is equipped with a projector and white boards, coffee machines and a water fountain.
20 June 2018, 9:30-12:30h, MUSA Learning Loft: StA-CES project discussion retreat 2018

Cloud Academy:
Cloud Formation and Properties in Extrasolar Planets

Cloud Academy 2018 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.
Participant selections announced:   June 1, 2018
Registration deadline:   June 15, 2018

RSE workshops

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 I: "Environmental Ethics and Value" (6 October 2018, Ben Sachs, St Andrews)
Workshop II: "Purpose in the Universe" (13 October 2018, Tim Mulgan, St Andrews)

Contemporary academic philosophers tend to regard an interest in extra-terrestrial life as cranky or suspicious. But this is a historical anomaly, and the possibility of life elsewhere has been debated since the ancient Epicureans. From the seventeenth century and well into the nineteenth century, as astronomers demonstrated that our earth and sun are just one amongst many, the informed view of intelligentsia was that the universe is filled with habitable planets and intelligent life. One principal argument for this 'pluralism' was philosophical or theological: God (or Nature) does nothing in vain, so the vast cosmos could not be home to only one small race of rational beings.
In this workshop, we will bring together theologians, philosophers of religion, and moral philosophers, exploring 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. We will invite participants to reflect - often for the first time - on how their views may need to evolve in the light of exoplanet science.
One possible theme is nicely captured in this parody offered by the Scottish science fiction writer Ken MacLeod: "From the principle of plenitude, we conclude that God would have created aliens. From the Fermi Paradox, we conclude that if there were aliens, they would be here. But there are no aliens. Therefore God does not exist. Discuss." (Ken MacLeod, Learning the World, Hachette Digital, 2005, p. 160.)

Workshop III: "Trust and Public Communication in Science"   (date tba, Katherine Hawley, St Andrews)


Previous Events

Scottish Exoplanet / Brown Dwarf Spring Meeting 2018


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.

Get Your Hands Off Me You Damned Dirty Alien!

Edinburgh Science Festival 2018 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.

Friday Evening Lectures

2 February 2018

"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 )

1st British Planetary Science Congress

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.

British Planetary Science Congress

Scottish Exoplanet/Brown Dwarf Autumn Meeting 2017

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.

Friday Evening Lectures

20 October 2017

"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 )

⇒   Update:
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?
habitable planets
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

BBC Horizon

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.
Dr David Brin 6 April 2017 talk
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.

Public Talk 16 Mar 2017

"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

UKExo2017 The fourth UK Exoplanet Community Meeting took place at the University of St Andrews' Centre for Exoplanet Science from 15 - 17 March 2017.
→   programme
→   more info

Physics and Astronomy Colloquium

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.
winner of logo competition
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.
Inauguration photo 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.
Inauguration poster session
→   Inaugural Event & Poster Session Programme
→   Press Release

St Andrews Open Night at the Observatory

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.

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GeoBus is an educational outreach project supporting Earth Science learning in schools in the UK


Mobile Planetarium

Recreating the sky as it would look on the night of the show, tailored to suit the age range of the audience.


Is there a loss of trust(worthiness) in science?


Experts discuss the notions of the alleged loss of trust in research and evidence, its underlying causes, and questions on how valid knowledge can and should be acquired and communicated.


LEAP-Project's Blog for the World


Well-Bred Insolence


Duncan Forgan's blog