Free public lecture kicks off celebration for new center

University Park, Pa. -- A free public lecture titled "Other Worlds in the Universe" will be given by Michel Mayor, a discoverer of the first planet orbiting a sun-like star outside our solar system, as the the first in a series of events that will celebrate the inauguration of Penn State's new Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds.

The lecture, which is intended for the general public as well as for scientists, will take place at 7 p.m. Sept. 24, in 112 Kern Building on the University Park campus. Directed by Alex Wolszczan, Evan Pugh professor of astronomy and astrophysics, the center is devoted to broad, interdisciplinary research in the field of extrasolar planets, to promoting collaborations among scientists, and to improving science education at Penn State and among the general public.

Wolszczan discovered the first planets ever found outside our solar system in 1992, catapulting the field of extrasolar-planet studies into the forefront of astrophysics.  Wolszczan had observed tiny fluctuations in the arrival times of the regular signals from a pulsar -- a telltale sign of the presence of orbiting planets around the rapidly spinning neutron star. This discovery of planets around a "dead" remnant of an exploded star was startling, as it was the last place astronomers expected to find planets. Three years later, the first extra-solar planet around a normal solar-like star, named "51 Pegasi b," was identified by Mayor and Didier Queloz. As of today, scientists have discovered more than 300 planets accompanying various types of stars.

The principal objective of research in the field of extrasolar-planet studies is to find planets where living organisms exist, or might exist, and to determine their rate of occurrence in the universe. Penn State's new Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds will foster such research among faculty and students from the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and other departments within the Eberly College of Science, from the College of Engineering, and from the Department of Geosciences in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

"The faculty in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and allied departments at Penn State have expertise in several of the areas that are critical to the study of extrasolar planets," said Wolszczan. "The Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds has the potential to become a leader in this exciting field."
 

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Last Updated March 19, 2009