Search is on for life-sustaining planets

MIDDLEBURY — The annual meeting of the Vermont Academy of Science and Engineering (VASE), which will be held next Wednesday, Oct. 17, at Middlebury College, will feature a public lecture by an expert on “exoplanets” that could one day sustain human life.
David Latham of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is the Director of Science for TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. TESS was launched successfully in April.
This satellite is monitoring more than 200,000 stars and is in the process of discovering what are expected to be thousands of planets orbiting these stars. Stars chosen for the TESS survey are bright, making their planets’ properties relatively easy to characterize. These properties — including compositions of planetary atmospheres — will help scientists identify possibly habitable planets. Habitable candidates will be studied further with large, ground-based telescopes and the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2021.
The TESS team announced its first exoplanet detection on Sept. 16, and Dr. Latham’s talk — titled “The Search for Habitable Worlds” — will include a preview of early results from TESS’s observations.
Latham’s talk is free and open to the public.
The VASE meeting begins at 5 p.m. on Oct. 17 in room McCardell Bicentennial Hall, Room 216. Latham will speak after presentations of the academy’s annual awards for Outstanding Teaching in Science to two teachers in Vermont schools.

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