This week on These Vibes Are Too Cosmic, we interview Aida Behmard, a post-baccalaureate scholar at Princeton, whose research involves finding exoplanets and postulating about the types of extremophile alien life that might live there.
Aida has been digging through a trove of data from the HATNet project, a series of ground-based telescopes pointed up at swaths of the sky to try and find stars with planets orbiting around them. She searches through the history of telescope measurements, trying to find the moment when a planet orbits right in front of a star. When the star’s brightness decreases incrementally, the researchers can tell that a planet has blocked some starlight and thus can learn about the eclipsing planet. And it works–so far, the project has discovered 56 exoplanets around distant stars!
Motivated by the origins of life, Aida hopes to learn about the atmospheres of these new exoplanets and thus narrow down what kind of life might live there. These extremophile organisms, maybe used to harsh atmospheres and even radiation, could exist in many different forms surprisingly different from the kind of life we’re used to on Earth. To understand the possibilities, Aida communicates with biologists about what living structures might exist so far away.
Finally, Aida is the director of a new outreach project at Princeton, Open Labs. This program organizes science talks aimed at different grade levels, and it brings in classes from local schools to hear about all kinds of research going on at Princeton. Check it out!
After Aida left, we went on to talk about the new observations of Pluto by NASA’s New Horizons mission. The new knowledge we have about
To end the show, Stevie talked all about SIGSALY, a system of cryptography used in World War II that kept messages secret with vinyl records. These massive stations would be set up at important military bases around the world, and then two matching records (one message, one decoder) had to be played in unison for a highly-secret message to be understood. This technique, which involved briefcases of decoder records and 55 tons of high-tech processing equipment per station, paved the way for modern cryptographic techniques and data processing (that allows us to communicate in war and for you to use your cell phone). Learn all about it here!