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December 2011 Extra: Habitable?

December 2011 Extra

Habitable? In the show this time, Dr Matt Griffin tells us about the Herschel mission and we talk to Dr Eduard Kontar about the Sun and solar flares. As always, your questions are answered by Dr Iain McDonald and we round up some odds and ends from the world of astronomy.

Interview with Prof. Matt Griffin

George and Adam interview Professor Matt Griffin (Cardiff University), one of the lead scientists for the Herschel Space Observatory. Herschel was launched in May 2009 and is observing the Universe at infrared wavelengths. In this interview, Matt talks about the background of the mission, the science results so far, and the future after the end of the Herschel mission.

Interview with Dr Eduard Kontar

Dr Eduard Kontar (University of Glasgow) talks to Christina and Libby about solar flares - describing what they are, how they are formed and how much energy is released in a flare. He goes on to tell us about highly accelerated particles in the solar flares including how and why they are accelerated, and how we observe them and what observing these particles can tell us. He also talks about the relationship between coronal mass ejections (CMEs), solar flares and sunspots and how their occurrence changes depending on the solar cycle. He also describes the different aspects of the solar atmosphere and whereabouts the flares originate.

Ask an Astronomer

Dr Iain McDonald answers your astronomical questions:

Odds and Ends

The SETI (Search For Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute have built an array of wide band radio receiver dishes, which was part funded by Paul Allen of Microsoft. However the Allen Telescope Array was put into 'standby mode' in April due to funding issues. The good news is that they are back in business as of the beginning of December and will be looking for signs of intelligent life on potential extra solar planets spotted by the Kepler satellite.

NASA confirmed the discovery of an extrasolar planet in the habitable zone around its parent star. The planet, found by the Kepler spacecraft as it transited across the star, has a radius 2.4 greater than Earth's and an average temperature estimated at 22° Celsius. It is designated Kepler-22b, but has been rather hastily dubbed "Earth 2.0" by some commentators. An excellent blogpost by Matt Burleigh explains why these claims may be unfounded.

A team of scientists at UC Berkley, California have discovered the biggest black holes ever found. These black holes exist in the centres of two nearby galaxies and have masses of approximately 10 billion solar masses. The largest known before this was 6.3 billions solar masses. It is well known that blackholes sit at the centre of most (if not all) galaxies, and it is believed that these gigantic black holes may be the "dormant relics" of the blackholes that power quasars.

Show Credits

Interview:Prof. Matt Griffin, Adam Avison and George Bendo
Interview:Dr Eduard Kontar, Libby Jones and Christina Smith
Ask An Astronomer:Dr Iain McDonald
Presenters:Jen Gupta, Mark Purver, Joel Radiven and Christina Smith
Editors:Jen Gupta, George Bendo, Mark Purver and Dan Thornton
Producers:Jen Gupta, Libby Jones and Christina Smith
Segment Voice:Mike Peel
Website:Jen Gupta and Stuart Lowe
Cover art:A twisted ring in the Galactic centre observed by Herschel. CREDIT: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Hi-GAL

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