November 29, 2010

Exogazing 51 Pegasi b

It's been a while since the last time I spotted stars with known exoplanets. So, I decided to sneak out last night, grabbing my binoculars and hurrying out to my back yard, droid in my pocket running the latest version of the Sky Map app.

The target: 51 Pegasi b (51 Peg b), around a faint star (magnitude 5.5) located just a little to the side of the line connecting Markab and Scheat, two of the four major stars making up the “Great Square” of Pegasus.

It was relatively easy spotting 51 Peg, thanks to the two guide stars--Sadalbari and Sadalpheretz--all three of them fit nicely within a 4.5 Deg FOV of my binoculars.

The circle denotes what I see through my binoculars with a  4.5 degree FOV 
When I tried to verify what I saw through my binoculars by consulting my starmap, I grabbed a quarter coin to draw a circle to denote my binocular’s FOV. To my surprise, the coin's circle fits nicely with the FOV of my binoculars!

The quarter coin matches my binocular's FOV of the night sky!

Discovering that a quarter coin is approximately 4.5 degrees on my starmap which closely matches what I see of the night sky through my binoculars, would allow me to exogaze a little bit faster next time. Yay!

November 24, 2010

Giordano Bruno, Imaginative Logic, and the Plurality of Worlds

I am gripped by a certain sense of nostalgia every time I read old books. There's something about those archaic sentences, or the fonts, which I imagine being printed by old, rusty movable types. Even more so, is that I am intrigued by the authors’ way of thinking in those early days when Science and Astronomy were in its infancy.

Thus, in the inquiry about other Worlds, what were the thinker's methods of thought in the olden days when there was no internet? How far can their ideas go when all they had were just the pure sight of Nature to power their brains?

Yesterday, I came across this book "Giordano Bruno and Renaissance Science", in which the author reevaluates Bruno's contribution to the scientific revolution. We all heard about that the guy before, that pesky hooded friar who got burned at the stake for his heretical views.

Now let’s take a peek at how Bruno came up with his Philosophy and way of thinking. In one instance, Bruno “wishes to prove that opaque bodies lying between the eye and luminous bodies can easily disappear from the field of vision: a point which he illustrates by holding a matchstick between his eyes and a lighted candle."

Albeit primitive, Bruno noted the same difficulty involved in exoplanet-hunting; that it's like trying to find a firefly across the backdrop of a searchlight, as modern-day astronomers would often say. Had Bruno written that the distant star's light would be dimmed in a measurable way by an orbiting planet passing across the viewer's line of sight, he would have hinted at one of the most successful methods in Exoplanet-hunting, the Transit Method.

In his time, such an insight is not bad. Apparently, Bruno used "Imaginative Logic" (in contrast to rational logic) as his thinking method to come up with his ideas, which were considered quite radical at that time. Nevertheless, Bruno stumbled onto something bigger, an idea so true and powerful that he was willing to give up his life for it.

Today with more than five hundred known worlds on other stars, we are basking in that idea now.

The Plurality of Worlds "...constitutes the essential premise for the new cosmology of Bruno, whose universe is filled with infinite worlds, most of which are invisible to the naked eye."

"In space there are countless constellations, suns and planets; we see only the suns because they give light; the planets remain invisible, for they are small and dark. There are also numberless earths circling around their suns, no worse and no less than this globe of ours. For no reasonable mind can assume that heavenly bodies that may be far more magnificent than ours would not bear upon them creatures similar or even superior to those upon our human earth."
~ Giordano Bruno, 1584

"All philosophy is based on two things only: curiosity and poor eyesight; if you had better eyesight you could see perfectly well whether or not these stars are solar systems, and if you were less curious you wouldn't care about knowing, which amounts to the same thing. the trouble is, we want to know more than what we can see."
~ Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle, Conversations on the Plurality of the Worlds, 1686

Giordano Bruno and Renaissance Science

November 20, 2010

Exoplanet 500

I wrote this post to mark a milestone in Exoplanet Science. There are now over five hundred known exoplanets in our database.

It may not be such a big deal. Five Hundred is not much. Not until one considers the fact that gazillions of planets wander the galaxy. It means that cataloguing worlds is an infinite pursuit. Such task tickles the potential of the whole human race, and the human mind.

We have "Indy 500", and we have "Fortune 500", now why not have "Exoplanet 500"?

Yes, "Five Hundred" is fun to utter. And as I sing it out loud, I reflect upon the accomplishments of the Astronomers whose dedication continue to expand our view of the Cosmos.

Amazing how far we've gone as a curious species.

Now's a good time to pause and appreciate the contributions of the rest of the Scientists, Philosophers, Artists, Thinkers and Dreamers--not only those that are currently in our midst, but especially those who have gone before us. They are the Giants upon whose shoulders we are standing on to get a better view of our wondrous universe, enabling us to glimpse New Worlds.

"For I would walk 500 miles, and i will walk 500 more..."
~ The Proclaimers, I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)

Tadalala! Tadalala...tadalalalalalaa...

Exoplanet Encyclopaedia

November 18, 2010

Intergalactic Planetary...Planetary Intergalactic...Another Dimension...Another Dimension...

I don't really listen much to rap music, but today I suddenly found this song playin' inside my head.

"Intergalactic Planetary...Planetary Intergalactic...Another Dimension...Another Dimension..."

So what's with the rapping and a-tapping, you ask? Well, we've just found a planet that's "Intergalactic". And rightly so. Because this planet named "HIP 13044 b" actually originated from another galaxy which was eventually swallowed up by our own Milky Way galaxy. Yes, it moved from one galaxy to another. And that makes it truly Intergalactic!

Yeah, yeah so what does the "another dimension...another dimension" got to do with it? Well, on this same day after the exogalactic exoplanet was announced, news came out of the possible proof of extra dimensions via the bending of light by black holes. Yup, another dimension...another dimension...

Now do you understand why the Beastie Boys are screaming in my head? "Intergalactic Planetary...Planetary Intergalactic...Another Dimension...Another Dimension..."

Planet from Another Galaxy Discovered (ESO)
Extragalactic Planet by PhysOrg
Extragalactic Exoplanet via SciAm
Proof of Another Dimension?

November 4, 2010

My First Foray into Data Visualization with Exoplanets

Einstein said, "If I can't picture it, I can't understand it." This statement proved itself to be true on my first foray into Data Visualization. And let me add that it was absolutely a fun experience being able to play around with all the data using the excellent tool provided by "Many Eyes" which was instrumental in helping to reveal insights that lay hidden within those rows and columns of numbers. And of course, it wouldn't be possible at all without the data! So I am thankful for the folks at for providing the dataset.

Now I realized that, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." Yes, Einstein also said that. And I think that is the final part of Data Visualization (which i presume overlaps with Data Journalism in some way, too). It was fun generating the visualizations, and analyzing them to find insights was challenging--but it is not complete without the ultimate goal of communicating what I have discovered.

Sure, the pictures speak for themselves (in more than a thousand words), but there is an added benefit in formulating a simple statement to convey the insight: it makes you learn the concept even more. Finally, being able to share that understanding completes the joy.

Let me warn you that I am not a scientist, so please bear with me as i briefly explain my own original findings from these pictures (and please correct me if i'm wrong). Also let me iterate that I'm not a designer or an artist, so the graphics presented in this post are no match compared to the aesthetics of David McCandless (Visual Miscellaneum), and the analytical prowess of Edward Tufte (Envisioning Information).

The conclusion(s) I've drawn from the visuals pretty much explains it concisely. The additional notes are supplementary.

Fig. 1: Visual Magnitude vs Discovery Method (used to find the exoplanet)
Conclusion: The magnitude or brightness of host stars whose planets were discovered via Transit Method are generally dimmer than those stars whose planets were discovered via Radial Velocity (RV) Method. Here's another proof.
Transit Method works best on dimmer stars because it does not drown out its own planets in its glare as much as a bright star would. Radial Velocity (RV) method works best on brighter stars for better spectographic analysis.

Fig. 1: Visual Magnitude vs Discovery Method

Notes:The label delineating the two methods are not noticeable so i need to point out that the left section are those host stars with planets were discovered via RV method. The smaller section on the right with a noticeably darker shade are those stars with transiting planets.
The dimmer tint for high values of Visual Magnitude (V) fits well with the fact that stars with a higher value of magnitude (V) are actually dimmer than those with a lower value.
[Link to the interactive version at Many Eyes]

Fig. 2: Discovery Method vs. Exoplanet Names
Conclusion: Exoplanets discovered via RV method have more "generic" sounding names than those discovered via transit method.
Here's a nice tip on how to quickly guess whether an exoplanet was discovered via RV or transit method: If it's generic-sounding, or if it bears the host star's name (like "HD blah-blah")--then chances are, it’s discovered via Radial Velocity!

Fig. 2: Discovery Method vs. Exoplanet Names
Notes: Exoplanet names are commonly derived from the host star name plus the alphabetical index of the planet by order of its discovery date. Often, the instrument used to discover it are then used in lieu of the star name (for example: Kepler-4 b, or CoRoT-7b)

[Link to the interactive version at Many Eyes]

These are only some of the visualizations I came up with while playing with the exoplanet dataset for around an hour or so. There are definitely many more correlations you can uncover via the other methods at Many Eyes or other tools. Make sure you also play around with the data and let other people know about the insights you come up with. Head over to Many Eyes and use the same data I uploaded to generate your own visualizations.

1) These graphs and visualizations are what we can statistically glean from, given the current data provided. The trends I pointed out in this post will change in the next few years. For example: When Kepler starts to announce their discoveries, the number of exoplanets discovered via Transit Method will suddenly skyrocket and overtake the total number of exoplanets discovered via Radial Velocity (RV). (It will be interesting how to visualize that trend when we add the function of time.)
2) Also, these visualizations does not take into account those exoplanets discovered by a mash-up of two or more methods (such as those exoplanets discovered by using Transit method in tandem with RV).

Many Eyes
Dataset from