SETI Institute Weekly Colloquium

NOTE: Cancelled - November 15, Latest Exoplanet Results from NASA's Kepler/K2 Mission

Microsoft mapAt the Microsoft Campus in Mountain view
1065 La Avenida St, Mountain View CA 
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FREE and open to the public. Tuesdays, noon to 1pm

Monday, January 23 2017 - 12:00 pm, PST

Exocomets: Now you see them, now you don't

Barry Welsh
UC Berkeley

Minor bodies such as Kuiper Belt objects, comets, and asteroids constitute the rocky and icy debris left over from the planet building phase of our solar system. The existence of reservoirs of small rocky bodies (i.e., asteroids/planetesimals) in orbits around young stellar systems is now well established, with their presence being required by current (exo)planetary formation theories. The initial proto-planetary disks that contain the reservoir of dust and gas required to form (exo)planets are short lived (<< 1 Myr) and thus the circumstellar debris disks observed around young stars of ages 10 – 50 Myr must be being continually replenished by collision and evaporation events amongst planetesimals. In such systems, the gravitation field associated with the newly formed exoplanets can potentially enable the disruption of large numbers of these kilometer-sized icy bodies into trajectories directed towards the young central star.

Present technology does not enable us to view images of these kilometer-sized infalling bodies, but the evaporation of gaseous products liberated from exocomets that occurs close to a star can potentially cause small disruptions in the ambient circumstellar disk plasma. For circumstellar disks that are viewed “edge-on” this evaporating material may be directly observed through transient (night-to-night and hour-to-hour) gas absorption features seen at rapidly changing velocities. Using high resolution spectrographs mounted to large aperture ground-based telescopes, we have discovered 15 young stars that harbor swarms of exocomets. In this lecture we briefly describe the physical attributes of comets in our own solar system and the instrumental observing techniques to detect the presence of evaporating exocomets present around stars with ages in the 10 – 100 Myr range. We note that this work has particular relevance to the dramatic fluctuations in the flux recorded towards “Tabby’s star” by the NASA Kepler Mission, that may be explained through the piling up of swarms of exocomets in front of the central star.


Tuesday, January 31 2017 - 12:00 pm, PST

How Stars Form

Christopher McKee
UC Berkeley
Stars are the atoms of the universe. The process by which stars form is at the nexus of astrophysics since they are believed to be responsible for the re-ionization of the universe, they created the heavy elements, they play a central role in the formation and evolution of galaxies, and their formation naturally leads to the formation of planets. Whereas early work on star formation was based on the assumption that it is a quiescent process, it is now believed that turbulence plays a dominant role. In this overview, I shall discuss the evolution of our understanding of how stars form and current ideas about the stellar initial mass function, the rate of star formation, the formation of massive stars, the role of magnetic fields, and the formation of the first stars.

Tuesday, February 14 2017 - 12:00 pm, PST

Constraining the Evolution of a Delta Deposit on Mars from Orbit

Tim Goudge
Jackson School of Geosciences, UT Austin

Decades of planetary exploration have revealed widespread evidence for ancient fluvial activity on the surface of Mars, including deeply incised valleys, paleolake basins, and an extensive sedimentary rock record. Acquisition of high-resolution remote sensing data of the martian surface (e.g., images and topography) over the past 5-10 years have allowed for quantitative analysis of the large-scale sedimentary structures of martian sedimentary deposits.

In this talk, Dr. Goudge will focus on a detailed study of the stratigraphic architecture and channel deposit geometries of the Jezero crater delta deposit on Mars. Results from this study are used to reconstruct a scenario for the evolution of the Jezero crater delta and paleolake in which it formed. This delta deposit is a representative example of fluvial stratigraphy on early Mars, and these results can help to improve our understanding of ancient martian fluvial activity.


Tuesday, February 21 2017 - 12:00 pm, PST

Origins of Structure in Planetary Systems

Ruth Murray-Clay
UC Santa Cruz