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  7:30 pm, Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Fairmont Lounge, St. John's College

The Quest for Other Worlds

Virginia Trimble

University of California, Irvine

More than 2000 years ago, Epicurus taught that there is an infinite number of other worlds both like and unlike ours, and Aristotle taught that there are none. Neither hypothesis can currently be falsified. In the intervening centuries, however, philosophers, scientists, and others have suggested a wide range of kinds of "other worlds" and how they might be sought. The talk will include a number of these ideas, including some that led to false alarms over the past century. At last count, we knew of at least 25 different ways that planets orbiting other stars might reveal themselves, and there were more than 300 exoplanets in the on-line catalogues; however, none with the same mass, composition, and approximate temperature conditions as our own earth. Many are about the mass of Jupiter or larger, made mostly of gases, and are very hot because they are very close to their stars. Indeed none of the search methods can see an earth in their rather restrictive sense, but it is possible to think about conditions of planet formation; estimate how many habitable earths might be implied by the current data; and devise ways of recognizing them in the future.

Find out more by visiting her website.

Additional resources for this talk: slides, video.