Bugs in Space!? A Microbiologist’s View of Astrobiology and the Habitable Zone – Dr. Julia Foght
As astronomers discover myriad planets in distant solar systems and find evidence of water on planets and moons in our own solar system, astrobiologists seek to answer the question “Is there life elsewhere in the Universe?” But nested within these few words are many other questions: If life exists or previously existed beyond Earth, would we even recognize it? How can we detect life at astronomical distances without collecting physical samples?
What ‘biosignatures’ could we use, remotely or in place, to locate, confirm and/or examine such life, especially if it was microscopic? Where are the best places to look for life nearby in our solar system? Can sites on Earth serve as analogues to refine our questions and future exploration? Can the search for extraterrestrial life illuminate theories about the origins of life on Earth?
Dr. Foght will present some of the factors that potentially influence the distribution of life in the universe and the colonization of exoplanets, based on our current understanding of earthly analogues and ‘extreme’ microbes, but be prepared to leave with more questions than answers.
Biography: Dr. Julia Foght, Professor Emerita in the Biological Sciences Department, University of Alberta, is an environmental microbiologist and a past member of the Canadian Space Agency’s Astrobiology Discipline Working Group. Her interest in the field of Astrobiology arose from her fieldwork in Antarctica and research into microbes that live beneath glaciers from Nunavut and Alaska to New Zealand’s Southern Alps and the Transantarctic Mountains.
The MASSIVE Galaxy Survey is a project to study the structure, internal dynamics, and evolutionary histories of the approximately 100 most massive galaxies visible in the Northern hemisphere out to a distance of about 100 Mpc, or roughly 330 million light years. In this project, we combine 2-D “integral-field spectroscopy” on small (sub-arcsecond) and large (arcminute) scales in order to perform simultaneous dynamical modelling of the central supermassive black hole, stars, and dark matter. We also have an ongoing Hubble program to image a high-priority subsample of the MASSIVE galaxies. The ultimate goals of the survey include understanding variations in dark matter fraction and stellar mass function, the connection between black hole accretion and galaxy growth, and the assembly of galaxy outskirts over cosmic time. I will describe the survey design and observational strategy, as well as present first results on black hole mass measurements, stellar populations, and molecular gas detections in MASSIVE Survey galaxies.
John Blakeslee is an Astronomer with the NRC Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Programs at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Saanich. He studies galaxies and the large-scale structure of the universe using data from the Hubble Space Telescope and large ground-based observatories. Dr. Blakeslee received his PhD degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and did postdoctoral research at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and Durham University in the UK. He then spent five years as a Research Scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. He has worked at the DAO for the past nine years.
Certificate of Appreciation, For Public Outreach at the DAO summer star parties
For their outstanding support and engagement in the role of ” Person in Charge ” and Volunteer Coordinator. Presented to: Nelson Walker, Chris Purse, Sherry Buttnor, and Lauri Roche (absent).
Special Certificate of Appreciation
For His Continued Efforts and Successes in Supporting RASC Members in the access of on-line Live-Broadcasting of Monthly General Meetings. Presented to : Matt Watson.
Award of Excellence, Ernie Pfannenschmidt Award for Amateur Telescope Making
For His Outstanding Achievement in Designing and the Building of a Custom Telescope Tracking Platform c/w innovative features. Presented to : Jim Stillburn.
Award of Excellence in Astrophotography
For His Excellent ongoing work in Solar Imaging and the Mercury Transit on 6 May 2016, 6:14 AM, Canon T3i, f/4 300 mm. Presented to : Mr. John McDonald (absent).
Special Award of Excellence
For His Dedicated Support of Public Outreach at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, 2016. Presented to : Mr. David Lee
The Newton / Ball Service Award
For his Outstanding Dedication to Serving RASC Members in 2016, including : the Messier Marathon, Astronomy Day at the RBCM, the RASC Star Party and DAO Public Outreach. Presented to : Mr. Nelson Walker.
Remember the pizza party I mentioned? Probably not…it was a year ago or more. Well, it’s on! As a thank you for all the long hours and hard work you’ve put in at various events, we’re inviting all Victoria Centre members (and your spouses) to a party.
If you are a RASC-Victoria Centre member, and have volunteered at one or more RASC events in the last couple of years, you’re invited! -Saturday December 3rd. -6pm-10pm -Garry Oak room, Fairfield Community Centre,1341 Thurlow Road, Victoria.
This will be a pizza party, our regular monthly meeting for December, and a Members Night combined. We’d like at least two or three members to come and show off their skills: astrophotography, research projects, telescope making, crafts….anything astronomy-related that you’d like to share with the group.
Please email me directly if you plan to attend (and if you’re bringing your spouse), and if you’d like to present something as part of Members Night. Also let me know if you have any food allergies and/or special requests for pizza.
*Please note: there will be NO regular monthly meeting at UVic in December. The Pizza Party/Member’s Night will be in its place. We will hold a short business segment as usual as required by our bylaws (around 7:30pm), but this meeting will be primarily a Thank-You get-together for our amazing volunteers.
“Searching for Habitable Planets around our Closest Neighbors, the Alpha Centauri Triple Star System.” – Dr. Christian Marois, NRC Herzberg
The Alpha Centauri star system is ideal to search for habitable planets by various observing techniques due to its proximity and wide range of stellar masses. Following the recent discovery of an Earth-size planet candidate located inside the Proxima Centauri habitable zone, I will discuss this remarkable discovery and the planet’s potential to find life. I will also present our current project to discover similar planets around the two Sun-like pair located 15,000 AU from Proxima Centauri. The Alpha Centauri system is the prime target of the Breakthrough Starshot program, a project to send small quarter-size probes to take resolve images of these new worlds, and to prepare for Humanity’s first step into a new star system.
Bio: Dr Marois completed his Ph.D. at the Université de Montréal in 2004. The main topic of his thesis work was to understand the limits in exoplanet imaging and to design innovating observing strategies. After his thesis, he did postdoctoral researches at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Univ. of California Berkeley and NRC. In 2008, while at NRC, he led the team that took the first image of another planetary system (HR 8799) using the Keck and Gemini telescopes. He is currently pursuing his research at the NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics where he is part of the Gemini Planet Imager campaign and developing instruments for imaging Earth-like planets at Gemini South and the TMT.
7:30pm – Speaker – The secret of Adaptive Optics – Paolo Turri, UVic Astronomy
Since the dawn of optical telescopes, astronomers have been struggling against a serious problem: Earth’s atmosphere. The turbulence in the atmosphere degrades the quality of astronomical images by reducing the spatial resolution that they could achieve theoretically. For centuries astronomers had to live with this limitation, until space flight allowed them to put telescopes in orbit, avoiding the issue entirely. But for the larger telescopes here on the ground, the problem persisted. This was until a technical solution was finally found during the Cold War (but kept secret until few decades ago…).
Adaptive optics is a relatively new technology that allows a telescope to “manipulate” the light distorted by the atmosphere and to restore a clear vision of the skies. I will discuss the tricks that adaptive optics uses to achieve the result, as well as some of its scientific accomplishments. I will also tell the story of how we ended up acquiring this technology in astronomy. It’s a plot made of secrets, spies and mutually assured destruction.
Paolo is from Italy and he graduated in Padua and Trieste for his degree in Astronomy. He is currently a PhD student in Astronomy at the University of Victoria and his field of research is in adaptive optics. He has observed at the Gemini South telescope to study the stellar populations of Galactic globular clusters. At NRC Herzberg he is also studying the performance of the adaptive optics system that will be built in Victoria for the future Thirty Meter Telescope.
8:30-9:30 pm Annual General Meeting & Presentations
Call to order: 8:30pm
Minutes of 2015 Annual Meeting: Les.
Secretary’s Annual Report: Les.
Treasurer’s Financial Report: Bruce.
National Representative’s Report: Lauri.
Award of Excellence in Astrophotography –
Ernie Pfannenschmidt Award in Amateur Telescope Making –
Newton – Ball Service Award 2016-
Certificate of Excellence – Election of Victoria Centre Council Members: Nelson-
List of RASC Council positions for Victoria Centre 2016-2017:
President – Chris Purse (nominee)
First Vice President – Reg Dunkley (nominee)
Second Vice President – Deb Crawford (nominee)
Secretary – Leslie Welsh (incumbent)
Treasurer – Bruce Lane (incumbent)
At large and others:
Past President – Sherry Buttnor
National Representative – Nelson Walker (nominee)
Librarian – Michel Michaud (incumbent) Diane Bell (assistant, nominee)
Telescopes and School Programs – Sid Sidhu
Public Outreach – Ken Mallory (nominee)
Skynews Editor – Reg Dunkley (incumbent)
Light Abatement Chair – Dave Robinson (incumbent)
Membership Chair – Chris Purse (incumbent)
Webmaster – Joe Carr (incumbent)
Observing Chair – Michel Michaud, Jim Stilburn (incumbent co-chairs)
Systems Administrator /Technical Committee Chair – Matt Watson (incumbent)
Member(s) at Large:
Jim Hesser (National RASC Anniversary Working Group)
Lauri Roche (National RASC Anniversary Working Group )
James DiFrancesco (DAO Liaison)
Alex Schmidt (UVic Liaison)
David Lee (Observing)
Li-Ann Skibo (RBCM Liaison)
Bill Almond (Historian)
Chris Gainor (National Officer)
“Stardust: the cosmic seeds of life ” – Prof. Sun Kwok, Faculty of Science, The University of Hong Kong
How did life originate on Earth? For over 50 years, scientists believed that life was the result of chemistry involving simple molecules such as methane and ammonia cooking in a primordial soup. Recent space observations have revealed that old stars are capable of making very complex organic compounds. The stars then ejected the organics and spread them all over the Milky Way Galaxy. There is evidence that these organic dust particles actually reached the early Solar System. Through bombardments by comets and asteroids, the early Earth inherited significant amounts of star dust. Was the development of life assisted by the arrival of these extraterrestrial materials? In this talk, we describe discoveries in astronomy and solar system science over the last 10 years that resulted in a new perspective on the origin of life.
Kwok, S. The Synthesis of Organic and Inorganic Compounds in Evolved Stars, Nature, 430, 985 (2004)
Kwok, S. and Zhang, Y. Mixed aromatic/aliphatic organic nanoparticles as carriers of unidentified infrared emission features, Nature, 479, 80 (2011)
Kwok, S. Complex organics in space: from Solar System to distant galaxies, A&A Rev., 24, 1-27 (2016)
About the speaker
Prof. Sun Kwok’s research areas are astrochemistry and stellar evolution. He is best known for his theory on the origin of planetary nebulae and the death of Sun-like stars. His recent research has been on the topic of the synthesis of complex organic compounds in the late stages of stellar evolution. He is the author of many books, including The Origin and Evolution of Planetary Nebulae (Cambridge, 2000), Cosmic Butterflies (Cambridge, 2001), Physics and Chemistry of the Interstellar Medium (University Science Books, 2007), Organic Matter in the Universe (Wiley, 2012), and Stardust: the cosmic seeds of life (Springer, 2013).
He has been a guest observer on many space missions, including the Hubble Space Telescope and the Infrared Space Observatory. He currently serves as President of IAU International Astronomical Union (IAU), Commission on Astrobiology. Previously, he has served as the President of IAU Commission on Interstellar Matter (2012-2015) and chairman of IAU Planetary Nebulae Working Group (1994-2001).
“Exploring exoplanetary systems with the Gemini Planet Imager” – Zach Draper, UVic Astronomy
The Gemini Planet Imager is an instrument designed to directly image exoplanets and circumstellar disks around nearby stars. Partially built here in Victoria, it is now conducting a 600 hour survey at the Gemini-South observatory in Chile. I will discuss how the instrument works and highlight some of its recent discoveries.
Bio: Zack Draper is a second year PhD student at the University of Victoria, where he also received his Masters in 2012. His focus of study are debris disks (collisionally active, asteroid belts) around other stars. He is also member of the Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey.
“Hitchhiker’s Guide to Other Galaxies” – Maan Hani, UVic Astronomy
Since the earliest civilizations, we have been trying to understand the night sky. In the past century, following the Great Debate over the nature of “spiral nebulae” (known today as spiral galaxies), we witnessed the rise of extra galactic astronomy. Today, our understanding of galaxy formation and evolution is on the rise owing to revolutionary progress in observations and theory. In this talk, I will share our current understanding of galaxies and their exciting lives.
Maan H. Hani is a Astronomy PhD student working with Prof. Sara Ellison at the University of Victoria. After completing a Bachelor of Science with honours in Astrophysics at Saint Mary’s university in 2013, Maan continued working under the supervision of Prof. Rob Thacker and completed a Masters in Science in Astronomy in 2015. Maan is particularly interested in understanding the big picture of how galaxies form, evolve, and interact with each other and their environment. His past research has focused on modelling star formation and BH activity in galaxy simulations. Both, star formation and black hole activity, are thought to be closely tied to galaxy evolution making proper models of such processes essential to our understanding of how galaxies evolve.