StA-CES lunchtime meetings
We continue our series of informal lunches this Spring. With the continued desire to learn more from each other and identify synergies, each lunch will have a "theme", and we will all contribute 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 will be:
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 will take place in the Seminar Room of the Centre for Biological Diversity: this is in the Dyers Brae House (between Queen's Terrace and Greenside Place, beside the Kinnessburn), from 13:00-14:00h.
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.