Yale scientists to hold press conference on planetary discoveries, extraterrestrial life

David Rabinowitz, of 'Xena' (Eris) fame, with Ruth Blake and Sarbani Basu

WHEN: Tuesday, September 26, at 11 a.m.

WHERE: Yale Peabody Museum, 170 Whitney Avenue, New Haven, Connecticut

PURPOSE: Yale scientists contributing to Alien Earths, a major exhibition on the solar system and extraterrestrial life opening September 30 at the Museum, will discuss their research and answer questions on topics explored in the exhibit.

Questions may be submitted ahead of time to Melanie Brigockas [email protected] 203-432-5099. Audio transcript will be available after the conference.


• David Rabinowitz, research scientist, Yale Center for Astronomy & Astrophysics. The discovery of "Xena," officially renamed Eris last week, ignited a debate about what constitutes a planet and led to the demotion of Pluto to dwarf status. As a member of the team that built the Palomar QUEST camera at Yale, Rabinowitz helped make the technology possible not only to find Eris but learn that the entire solar system is filled with Pluto-size planets never before seen. His research involves questions about elliptical orbits, how they got that way, and why these dwarf planets are drifting away from the sun. He regrets the demotion of Pluto to dwarf status.

• Ruth Blake, assistant professor of geology & geophysics and chemical engineering. Blake searches for clues to alien life here on Earth in places like the volcanic hot springs of St. Lucia where conditions are similar to those prevalent during Earth's early history and on extraterrestrial bodies like Mars.

• Sarbani Basu, professor of astronomy. Basu studies sunquakes and uses helioseismology to determine what is happening inside the sun. She hopes data on solar emissions and magnetic fields will help predict the large solar flares that can override power grids and cause massive blackouts. She is also studying the connection between solar changes over decades and drastic changes in climate.

"Alien Earths" Exhibition at Yale's Peabody Museum of Natural History: Extraterrestrial Life and Other Age-Old Mysteries

Where did we come from? Are we alone? These age-old questions form the basis of the Yale Peabody Museum's newest exhibition "Alien Earths," opening September 30 and running through May 6. Developed by the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, Alien Earths presents research and discoveries related to NASA's Origins Program, a series of missions spanning the next 20 years in which scientists will use space- and ground-based observatories to understand the origin and development of galaxies, stars, planets, and the conditions necessary to support life. The exhibition also incorporates research from Yale scientists working in the fields of astronomy and geophysics.

Numerous interactive stations and multimedia presentations allow visitors to join the search for extraterrestrial life and much more. They can hear sounds from space, set planets in motion around a star, feel the difference in density between planets, and search for planets around distant stars. Hands-on technology allows them to sample the methods scientists use to search our galactic neighborhood. There are four viewing clusters:

  • Our Place in Space Visitors will see a representation of the area we are searching beyond our solar system, which represents a surprisingly small part of the Milky Way galaxy.

  • Star Birth Here visitors view animated footage of stars going through their life cycles. By moving planets of various masses into place around a star and setting them in motion, visitors witness how all members of a planetary family affect each other, as well as how difficult, and perhaps rare, it is to achieve a stable solar system like our own.

  • Planet Quest Visitors examine the methods that scientists have developed for searching for planets that cannot be seen or reached by spacecraft. One method involves the placement of wooden balls, representing planets of various sizes, in orbit around a model star. Changes appear in a graph that measures the light from the star as each planet passes between it and a light sensor. By observing similar changes in the light of a distant star, scientists can infer the presence of a planet in orbit around it. Another method allows visitors to spin different size balls, representing stars and planets, to create varying degrees of "wobble" as the planet orbits its sun. Most extrasolar planets have been detected by observing a star's wobble.

  • Search for Life
When scientists search for evidence of intelligent life forms, they look and listen for microbes, our planet's most abundant life form, without which life on Earth as we know it would not exist. A computer will scan a visitor's hand to reveal the countless life forms living on and within our bodies. Visitors can smell the difference between microbial colonies, listen to sounds from space to learn what signals from intelligent beings might sound like, and learn about a distant planet's habitability from a few pixels of light.


Funding for Alien Earths was provided by the National Science Foundation and the Kepler, Navigator, and Spitzer NASA missions. Additional support comes from the NASA Astrobiology Institute, the Space Telescope Science Institute, and SETI Institute.

General Museum Information
Located at 170 Whitney Avenue, Exit 3 (Trumbull Street) off I-91. Open Monday to Saturday, from 10 to 5, and Sunday from noon to 5. All programs and exhibits are free with admission unless otherwise noted. Admission is $7 adults, $6 seniors 65+, $5 children 3-18 and students with I.D. Admission is free for everyone on Thursdays from 2-5 pm. Wheelchair accessible. Open Labor Day and Memorial Day. Closed Jan 1, Easter, July 4, Thanksgiving, December 24 & 25.

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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