To celebrate the 4th of July, we will be hosting a talk on NASA's mission to discover planets beyond our own solar system. Fergal Mullally, Science Officer at the NASA Ames Research Center, will join us to explain and update us on NASA's ground-breaking Kepler mission. As part of our Science Foundation Ireland Speaker Series, Fergal will talk a little about the Kepler spacecraft, how we find extrasolar planets, and he will present some of recent exciting planet discoveries. We'll also be putting on a little 4th of July celebration before the talk!
Finding planets like our own elsewhere in the Galaxy is the first step to answering the age-old question of whether we are alone in the Universe. Unfortunately, it's very hard to see planets around other stars because the glare from the starshine overpowers the faint planets. Kepler is NASA's first mission capable of finding Earth sized planets in orbit aroundstarsother than our own. Instead of trying to see the planets directly, it measures the change in brightness when a planet passes in front a star and blocks a tiny fraction of the starlight. It is very rare for a planet to line up just right to pass in front of the star as seen from the spacecraft, so Kepler will stare at over 150,000 stars almost continuously for 5-6 years to capture these rare events. http://kepler.nasa.gov/
ABOUT FERGAL MULLALLY
Fergal Mullally is from Knocklyon on the south side of Dublin. He got his undergraduate degree in Physics from UCD in 2001, and a PhD in Astronomy from the University of Texas where he searched unsuccessfully for planets around white dwarf stars. He currently works for the Kepler Space Mission based at NASA's Ames Research Centre in California, where he works on improving data analysis techniques for Kepler data. When not playing peek-a-boo with his son, he enjoys reading history and playing sport.