It's the start of a new semester:
But before addressing those, I'd like to share with you a story about my flight from Beijing to New York on Saturday. Usually on these thirteen-hour flights, I tend to pass time by watching what is available on the inflight entertainment. The ideal flight would be one which I could sleep through, but I find it hard to stay asleep for longer than half an hour at a time. My flight from Sydney to Beijing was one of the most wonderful for me simply because I managed to sleep for four hours. It was on this flight that I chose to watch an episode of Through the Wormhole, "Are We Alone?" Because I started it towards the end of the flight, I only watched a few minutes. On the New York flight, as both planes were Air China's, I finished it.
Addressing the topic of extraterrestrial life, the episode first covers the work of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Life). The absence of contact with alien life leads to a thought presented in the program that reminded me of a discussion from freshman year here. One of the assignments for my astronomy first-year seminar was a group paper. My group snagged the habitable zone topic. During a meeting with our professor, he brought up a question, paraphrased here, that stunned me: If no extraterrestrial civilization has yet to contact us, could it be that civilizations destroy themselves once they reach the point where they have the means for that kind of communication? I've never encountered such a haunting question. Our world has been exploring space, our technology constantly advancing. At the same time, we have the means for our civilization's destruction; that is not a path we should go down.
The second part of the episode was not so philosophical, although, because of it, I don't think my brain has been more active on a plane ride. Exoplanets were the feature after SETI. As I watched, I thought, "You can't have this without mentioning Kepler." When Morgan Freeman described the "detective" who will search for life while out in space and its launch date, I knew he was talking about Kepler.
Documentaries have often presented unfamiliar material to me; being so engaged with the content was a different experience. For once, I recognized the experts that are interviewed. Geoff Marcy, Debra Fischer, Bill Borucki - I was a bit star-struck (planet-struck?).
One of my favorite aspects of science is learning through analogies. Borucki likened the transit of an Earth-sized planet as a flea crossing a car's headlight from a very far distance. It never gets tiring to realize the scale of the universe.
Another interesting part did not really have to do with the science. While Borucki demonstrated what a transit light curve looked like, I noticed a character in the Chinese subtitles on the bottom of the screen.
That is "ao," or the Chinese for "concave," among other similar meanings. I was shocked by how similar the example light curve and the character looked. After all, the transit of a planet in front of its star causes a dip in the star's light. I've always thought that "ao" was one of the more visual characters, and in this case, it really demonstrates what it is translating.
The above is my edit of the character I typed out, with the yellow representing the curve, the bottom line being the time axis, and the outside vertical lines being the brightness axes.
Well, I hope you found my story entertaining. I will leave you with something you should check out, especially the animation at the end: Kepler-20 e and f announcement. Since I saw them on Dr. Wright's blog, I've waited for almost two weeks during break to come back and add these planets. First, though, I have to finish adding the b, c, and d components of the system. It will be a busy first week back!