Missouri State University
Physics, Astronomy, and Materials Science Blog

The age-old question: Are there other Earths?

Exoplanets in space

Are there other planets out there like our own? If so, where are they?

It’s these questions that fuel the research of Dr. Peter Plavchan, assistant professor of astronomy at Missouri State University. Plavchan recently received funding from NASA to investigate the scientific feasibility of a space mission to search for exoplanets, or planets like ours orbiting nearby stars.

“The goal of the mission is to detect exoplanets that are the same mass as the Earth and that are orbiting at the same distance from their star as ours does,” said Plavchan, who will work with members of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on this project. “We already know Earth-sized exoplanets are common in our universe, but the ones we have found tend to be too hot from orbiting too close to their stars, or orbit dimmer red stars that are different from our Sun.”

The project, known as EarthFinder, will use a space telescope to find these exoplanets.

“The space telescope will have a mirror about 3 to 5 feet in diameter. The light from that telescope will be fed into a spectrograph, which basically spreads the light out into its constituent colors, like a rainbow,” said Plavchan. “By spreading the light out into its colors, one of the things we’ll be able to take advantage of is the Doppler Effect to watch nearby stars wobble in response to the exoplanets orbiting them.”

The Doppler Effect

The Doppler Effect technique measures shifts in color to determine the speed of a star. If you’ve ever heard a siren on a car speeding by, you can hear the change in pitch of the sound waves as it passes. The same thing happens to light.

“When a star is moving toward you, the light is ever so slightly bluer, and when a star is moving away from you, that light is ever so slightly redder,” said Plavchan. “A spectrograph allows us to measure that shift in the color of star light. Thanks to special relativity, by measuring that shift in the color we actually get the speed of the star, toward or away from us. If the speed of the star changes, that tells us that something is gravitationally tugging on the star.”

Moving forward

The project will answer that age-old question: Are there other Earths? It will also tell us more about our own planet as well as others.

“This mission could potentially help us better understand our own solar system,” said Dr. Peter Gao, NASA postdoctoral program fellow and future 51 Pegasi b prize postdoctoral fellow at the University of California at Berkeley. “By studying the exoplanets of other systems, we could learn how ours were formed and how it compares to other planets.”

Plavchan’s team will develop the mission concept during the next 18 months. The team hopes to demonstrate that using the Doppler Effect via a space telescope will enable scientists to discover more Earth-like planets.

For more information, contact Plavchan at 417-836-5609.

The post The age-old question: Are there other Earths? appeared first on News.

Posted in News | Comments Off on The age-old question: Are there other Earths?

Efforts made towards finding alternative energy sources

While the global climate heats up, so does the conversation on sustainability and the need for alternative energy and fuel resources. Dr. Robert Mayanovic, assistant department head of physics, astronomy, and materials science at Missouri State University, brings new hope to the topic as he has helped to discover a porous metal-oxide that could potentially […]

Posted in News | Comments Off on Efforts made towards finding alternative energy sources

Efforts made toward finding alternative energy sources

Mayanovic working in his lab.While the global climate heats up, so does the conversation on sustainability and the need for alternative energy and fuel resources. Dr. Robert Mayanovic, assistant department head of physics, astronomy, and materials science at Missouri State University, brings new hope to the topic as he has helped to discover a porous metal-oxide that could potentially be used as an alternative to traditional energy and fuel resources.

“Basically, we are looking for ways to develop materials that can be used in the future to harness conventional or alternate energy sources in a more sustainable fashion than what materials offer today,” said Mayanovic. “The first phase of the project is to test the stability of the materials in extreme environments.”

Engineering sustainability

Using a large x-ray machine called a synchrotron, which allows the materials to be probed down to the atomic level, Mayanovic and colleagues Dr. Sonal Dey of Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, and Dr. Ridwan Sakidja, associate professor of physics, astronomy, and materials science at Missouri State, found the porous metal-oxide (tungsten oxide) to be very stable under high temperatures and nominal pressures in water.

“Once this particular metal-oxide porous material is further modified to have excellent catalytic properties, it may potentially be used to break down bio-matter waste to liberate hydrogen and methane so that these gasses could be used as energy sources,” Mayanovic adds.

Initially collaborating with other scientists from the Energy Frontier Research in Extreme Environments Center (EFree), Mayanovic now continues to develop his research on tungsten oxide, hoping to provide the world with a new means to sustain the planet. Most recently, Mayanovic had the opportunity to be published in “Nanoscale, a peer reviewed scientific journal that covers experimental and theoretical research in all areas of nanotechnology and nanoscience.

The post Efforts made toward finding alternative energy sources appeared first on News.

Posted in News | Comments Off on Efforts made toward finding alternative energy sources

Five former faculty, staff selected for 2016 Wall of Fame induction

The Pew Research Center estimates that 10,000 Americans reach retirement age every day. But when these individuals retire, what legacy is left? At Missouri State University, the Wall of Fame honors former faculty and staff who have made a significant impact on the campus community and brought about meaningful change.

Posted in News | Comments Off on Five former faculty, staff selected for 2016 Wall of Fame induction

Author, Science Writer Sam Kean to Visit MSU, 3/30

Author Sam Kean
Author Sam Kean

New York Times best-selling author and popular science writer Sam Kean will be giving a talk in the PSU Theater at Missouri State University on Wednesday, March 30th from 5:00 – 6:00 pm followed by a book-signing where you’ll have the opportunity to buy a signed copy of one of his books. Admission to the event is free. For further details on Sam Kean and this talk, please visit http://samkean.com/.

This talk is sponsored by the MSU Chemistry Department Advisory Board, the Ozarks Local Section of the American Chemical Society, and the MSU College of Natural & Applied Sciences.

Posted in News | Tagged | Leave a comment

FUN-damentals of Physics Day at Discovery Center

Discovery CenterOur Society of Physics Students (SPS) will be holding a FUN-damentals of Physics Day at the Discovery Center in downtown Springfield tomorrow afternoon, November 7th.

Students will explain the Center’s hands-on exhibits from a physics perspective, at a level all ages can understand.

The event runs from 2:00-5:00 pm and admission is $12 for adults and $8 for children.

All proceeds go directly to the Discovery Center. Learn more about the Discovery Center online at www.discoverycenter.org.

Posted in News, Students | Tagged , , | Leave a comment