Astro Night

Thu, Apr 5, 2018

Speaker: Howard Isaacson (Berkeley)

Title: “Exoplanets, Habitability, and the Search for Earth-like Planets”


In this talk I will discuss the discoveries made by the Kepler Space Telescope that have completely changed the way we look at planets beyond the solar system. While the first planets outside of our solar system were found only 23 years ago, we now know that planets are ubiquitous in the galaxy. I will discuss the path forward for future exoplanet studies with NASA’s TESS mission and the James Webb Space Telescope to explore the atmospheres of extra-solar planets. Perhaps we will soon find life in the solar system, on the moons of Saturn and Jupiter. Exoplanet research has paved the way forward for the next great discovery in Astronomy. Will it be the discovery of life in the solar system, signs of life around an exoplanet or detection of intelligent life beyond the Earth? It’s only a matter of time before we know. Astronomers at UC Berkeley are leading the pursuit of answers to these questions, including the Berkeley SETI Research Center and Breakthough Listen, which leads a world-wide search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. 


Howard is a researcher in the Astronomy department at UC Berkeley working on the complimentary fields of exoplanets and SETI. Since the launch of NASA’s Kepler space telescope in 2009, he has worked on characterizing and confirming exoplanets ranging in size from Jupiter to the Earth. Using the Keck Observatory telescopes in Hawaii, Howard has contributed to a wide range of discoveries, including the first measurement of the mass of a rocky exoplanet, as well as exploration of stellar pulsations, super-nova, and exoplanet atmospheres. His work with the Berkeley SETI Research Center and Breakthrough Listen, in search for scientific evidence of intelligent life beyond the Earth, is focused on target selection and observation management. The Breakthrough Listen commitment to collecting data uses the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, the Parkes Telescope in Australia and the Automated Planet Finder at Lick Observatory. Such a commitment requires multi-time zone and multi-continent coordination. Additionally, a newfound commitment to undergraduate research is pushing Howard in his commitment to training the next generation of Astronomers.